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'Voter ID' will mean provisional ballots

Minnesota's got a good thing going with its elections: Same-day registration, easy absentee voting, mail-in rural ballots, almost non-existent fraud and one of the highest turnouts in the nation on a regular basis.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says that all changes if voters approve the "Voter ID" constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

In its place, the state will get controversial provisional ballots, thousands of disenfranchised voters and brand-new oversight by the U.S. Justice Department via federal election law that Minnesota has until now been exempt from because it has same-day registration, Ritchie said.

End of a great system?

The DFLer might be licking his wounds now that the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that he overstepped his bounds by trying to rewrite ballot titles for the Voter ID and anti-gay marriage amendments, but that doesn't stop him from being very worried that one of the best election systems in the nation is about to get trashed.

Voter ID will solve a problem with vote fraud in Minnesota that essentially doesn't exist, and will cost millions of state, county, city and township dollars to do it.

Ritchie was in Detroit Lakes last week, to talk to city clerks about the upcoming election, and he stopped by Detroit Lakes Newspapers for an interview.

Minnesota's current election system "is the best in the country," he said. Voter turnout is the best in the nation, something the state's 30,000 election officials and clerks "take great pride in," he added.

Hello, provisional ballots

Ritchie especially shudders at the "P" word -- provisional ballots -- because they are part of the package if voters approve the Voter ID amendment, and they have a well-earned reputation for slowing down the vote count (by a week or more at times) and clogging the courts with election litigation.

Under the current system, "you can vote right away, but you can go to jail if you lie on the (registration) form," Ritchie said.

All votes are counted on election night and the results are generally known the next day, unless it's so close that a recount is needed.

If the Voter ID amendment is approved, "half a million people's votes won't be counted for a week -- it will change the outcome," Ritchie said.

That's because of those provisional ballots, which are not counted until the voter comes back and proves they are eligible.

That opens the door to shades of Florida in the presidential race of 2000, with political parties squabbling in court over whether or not those provisional ballots should be counted.

"Ohio just recently finished up a lawsuit concerning the 2010 election over provisional ballots," Ritchie said.

Nationwide, 30 percent of provisional ballots are never opened, because for one reason or another those voters never came back within a week to verify their eligibility.

"We've never had provisional balloting in Minnesota before," Ritchie said. "It was a blessing when (former U.S. Rep.) Tim Penney got us exempted from federal requirements because we had same-day registration," he added.

Hello, federal oversight

"The deal was if Minnesota abandoned same-day registration (as it will if the Voter ID amendment passes) the state will fall under federal rules."

They include the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act, and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, and those laws are enforced by the U.S. Justice Department, Ritchie said.

"Provisional balloting triggers federal oversight," he explained.

Lots of Minnesotans will be affected if the Voter ID amendment passes: Ritchie said about 250,000 military and overseas residents vote absentee, and another 500,000 township residents vote by mail-in ballot.

About 540,000 Minnesotans in the last presidential election updated their addresses or names, if they were recently married, by registering or re-registering at polling places on election day.

About 84,000 senior citizens have been voting without a state-issued identification card.

"All these changes have a big impact on the process," Ritchie said. "It is the reason every other state that has adopted these (Voter ID) measures have exempted absentee and military voters."

Minnesota is unique in that it allows no exemptions for those voters, and by enshrining the law in the state constitution in the form of an amendment, it cannot be changed short of another constitutional amendment.

"Indiana promised free IDs (when it passed its Voter ID law) but it ended up costing $12 million in the first three years and they had to change that," Ritchie said.

Get your wallets out

If the Voter ID amendment passes, Minnesota can expect to spend millions of dollars providing free identification cards to thousands of residents and educating residents on the state's new voting requirements, according to Association of Minnesota Counties President Randy Maluchnik.

The provisional balloting requirements alone will cost Ramsey County an estimated $150,000 every two years, said Maluchnik, who is also a Carver County commissioner.

"Minnesota's townships expect to spend upwards of $3 million statewide to implement provisional voting during their March elections," he wrote. Local property tax payers will foot the bill if the state makes it an unfunded mandate.

The provisional balloting process will "require local governments to print special ballots, purchase new equipment, hire and train additional election judges, provide special business hours to allow provisional voters to prove their identity, and pay for storage and security of provisional ballots," Maluchnik said.

Turns out there's a lot more to the Voter ID amendment than just showing your driver's license at the polling place.