NEW ULM - It was clear from the start Tuesday that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie vehemently opposes the proposed voter ID amendment voters will decide the fate of in the Nov. 6 general election.
Discussing the topic at the Brown County Board meeting Tuesday, Ritchie said the proposal is unusual in that it would require government-issued, not just government-approved, photo identification cards to be used by voters as of July 1, 2013.
Ritchie said on top of that, many people (his office estimated 84,000 people in Minnesota) don't have such cards and 134,000 that do have them, have an incorrect address.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie explains the proposed voter ID amendment to a roomful of people at the Brown County Board meeting Tuesday.
"It'll require a whole new (identification) system that will cost counties $10-$20 million and townships several million more," Ritchie said.
He described some election scenarios if the amendment is passed.
"If you forget your wallet or your photo ID was stolen before you go to vote, you fill out a provisional ballot that would be filed away by a clerk. If you have it handy, you have several days to take your photo identification to city hall to trigger the provisional ballot," Ritchie said. "Nearly 5 percent of people would fill out the provisional ballot wrong. They would have to be corrected before it would go through an optical scanning machine."
Ritchie said voters with stolen wallets may have to wait weeks before replacement identification is produced and mailed to them, then taken to city hall, before provisional ballots would be counted, delaying election results, possibly for long periods of time.
"Nationally, 31 percent of provisional ballots are never opened because voters didn't complete the process," Ritchie added. "Ohio just completed counting its Nov. 2010 election ballots. It can be expensive and lead to more election controversy."
Ritchie said the issue began in Minnesota as a way to avoid voter fraud but needs to be thought through better.
Prairieville Township Supervisor Tom Hirsch suggested election poll workers be allowed to tear up spoiled ballots on the spot instead of saving them.
Ritchie suggested poll workers use election rosters with voter photos on them instead of requiring voters to get their own identification cards, saving millions of dollars and speeding up the process. He suggested Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) photos be used on election ballots.
"The proposal uses eight-track technology with continuing costs," Ritchie said. "It's a very serious change with a $50 million price tag just to begin with."
Hirsch agreed, saying poll workers know who the voters are by looking at them.
Sleepy Eye farmer Greg Bartz disagreed with Ritchie.
"You said you don't tell people how to vote on this, but that's just what you did, using scare tactics," Bartz said. "The Voter ID Amendment will add confidence to the system. When you disenfranchise a voter, it breaks the whole system."
Jane Downs of New Ulm asked Ritchie where Minnesota ranked with voter fraud.
He said voter fraud in Minnesota was among the lowest in the nation.
Downs said state voter fraud was the worst in the country and that the voter ID amendment is needed.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).