MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota's Republican-led legislature on Wednesday advanced plans to bypass Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and let voters decide if the state should adopt a controversial voter photo ID requirement that he rejected last year.
The state House early on Wednesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would require photo IDs at the polls and a Senate committee voted on Wednesday afternoon to advance a proposed amendment to the full Senate.
The votes, both on party lines, put Minnesota and its closely divided electorate squarely within a national movement by Republican-controlled state legislatures to enact more restrictive voter ID laws. Democrats contend that the laws are aimed at keeping their supporters such as minorities and the elderly from the polls.
If voters approve, Minnesota would be the second state to adopt a voter photo ID requirement by constitutional amendment. Mississippi voters approved a voter ID ballot initiative in 2011 that has not yet taken effect.
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 problem that does not exist and would restrict voting by students, the elderly and the homeless, groups seen as more likely to support Democrats.
If approved by the Minnesota 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," Kiffmeyer said.
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 a "right to work" law that would allow workers in unionized businesses to opt out of paying union dues.
(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Daniel Trotta)