Monday, September 10, 2012

Kiffmeyer and Her Pig

The Star Tribune's Jim Ragsdale did a good job yesterday telling about the elderly and disabled people who have had trouble getting government-issued ID, the kind needed to vote under the proposed law we'll be voting on in Minnesota.

One was a woman born in the South who absolutely does not have a birth certificate; another was a woman who had to get her marriage certificate from Texas to prove her name change, even though she didn't know when or exactly where the marriage had taken place; yet another was a low-vision man from Illinois who found out along the way that he was born under a different name, and who had pay over $300 to get his name legally changed to what he had thought it was all along.

All three live at a care facility whose residents were planning to go on a cruise, and therefore required a passport. With the cruise scheduled for November, the center's staff started working on getting documents for everyone in February. Some never got them, while others had them arrive just before the cruise, seven months later.

All of these facts are disturbing, of course, but the thing that outraged me in the article was the Republican response to it all.

As you may know, Republican legislators passed a bill to change our voting laws, but it was vetoed by the governor. Then, taking advantage of the incredibly stupid fact that only a majority is required to put an amendment to Minnesota's Constitution on the ballot, they passed the same requirement as a fairly vague amendment. Because it's vague, there are a bunch of implementation details that will have to be worked out in the Legislature after/if the amendment passes.

Mary Kiffmeyer, sponsor of the amendment and Minnesota chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), was asked to respond to the problems raised in the article. Her general response is to wave her arms and say, magically, "We'll fix that in session after the amendment passes."

For instance, in response to the cases cited above, Kiffmeyer was paraphrased as saying "that the availability of waivers for those without underlying documents and adaptations of current law by the Legislature could address problems without disenfranchising anyone." Oh, so there are going to be waivers, huh? How will those be decided upon, and how high a hurdle will the process be? Do you have to be a Republican to get one?

A second area of concern raised in the article was IDs for people living in homeless shelters.

Colleen O'Connor Toberman, of Our Savior's Housing, a shelter and housing program in Minneapolis, said 75 percent of those entering the shelter are registered voters.

Before each election, she said, the shelter sends local elections officials a list of staffers who can vouch for their residents at the polls, allowing them to register and vote. The staffer who is vouching signs an oath stating that the resident resides at the facility.

If vouching disappears and an ID requirement replaces it, Toberman said she fears for the voting rights of low-income people without fixed addresses. "They're often being overlooked," she said. "Voting is the only way they can be heard."

Kiffmeyer said that even homeless people can have an address assigned by the county or city and be issued an ID.
How will that assignment of addresses by the city or county work, and why is it any better than the much cheaper system of having the shelter's staff members vouch for the residents?

The article also mentioned that states such as Mississippi have addressed concerns about nursing home residents voting by exempting them from the requirements. But I don't see how that can stand up to a challenge based on equal protection under the law. It makes no sense at all.

All of Kiffmeyer's arm-waving is evidence that this shouldn't have been  presented as a Constitutional amendment in the first place. This is policy, and should have been enacted through the normal legislative process, where everyone can see what it requires before anyone -- citizen or legislator -- votes on it. Otherwise, it's a pig in a poke.

Update: MinnPost today had an excellent discussion of the amendment and the legal meaning of "substantially equivalent identify and eligibility verification." Lots of quotes from advocates and opponents.

And here's a video from against the amendment: 

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