Minnesota may bypass governor on voter ID law

MINNEAPOLIS Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:29am EDT

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MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota's Republican-controlled House took a step toward bypassing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to pass a voter ID law that he has already vetoed once, voting on party lines on Wednesday to have voters settle the controversial issue.

The House approved the proposed amendment that would require photo IDs at the polls by a 72 to 62 vote after hours of debate, sending it to the state Senate where Republicans also hold a majority.

The state Senate's rules committee was scheduled to take up the photo ID amendment proposal at a meeting on Wednesday.

The vote puts Minnesota and its closely divided electorate squarely within a national movement by Republican-controlled state legislatures to enact more restrictive voter ID laws that Democrats contend are aimed at keeping their supporters from the polls.

Several states have enacted voter photo ID laws since the start of 2011 including Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas and Pennsylvania, though the U.S. Justice Department has blocked the Texas law and a state judge has blocked the Wisconsin law.

Thirty states have laws requiring voters to show at least some type of identification to vote in November, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

Republican supporters have said voter ID laws were needed to prevent voter fraud. Opponents say the law addressed a largely nonexistent problem and would restrict voting by students, the elderly and the homeless, groups seen as more likely to support Democrats.

If approved by both sides of the legislature the proposed amendment would go before voters in the November election, bypassing Dayton, who vetoed a voter photo ID bill that state lawmakers approved last year.

"Right now we have a system that is weak in the area of voter registration, lots of access, but very weak on integrity in the voter registration process," Republican Representative Mary Kiffmeyer said at the opening of discussion on Tuesday.

"We should have an upfront openness, transparency and honesty in the voter registration process," said Kiffmeyer, a sponsor.

Kiffmeyer also said the amendment would continue to allow same-day voter registration, absentee-voting, senior voting, mail-in balloting, and access to voting for college students and members of the military.

Democrats offered several changes to the proposal that were rejected and House minority leader Paul Thissen said lawmakers should be focused on jobs, not constitutional amendments.

"Amending the constitution should only be done when absolutely necessary to accomplish a goal, not because you can, not because it feels good, not because you have the votes, not because you feel passionately about an issue," Democratic Representative Steve Simon said.

Minnesota's electorate has been closely divided in recent years, leading to expensive recounts in elections won by Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken in 2008 and Dayton in 2010.

The voter ID question would join a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Minnesota on the ballot.

Republican lawmakers also are considering asking voters in November to decide whether Minnesota should join 23 other states in adopting anti-union "right to work" laws.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Daniel Trotta)

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