FAIRMONT - A pair of local candidates for state office weighed in Saturday on the voter ID amendment to the state constitution that Minnesotans will accept or reject on election day.
State Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, is seeking re-election to the House in District 23A. Paul Marquardt, a Democrat from Eagle Lake, is trying to win the Senate District 23 seat.
Gunther and Marquardt were guests of People First, a group run for and by people with disabilities, at Friendship Village in Fairmont. People First operates under the umbrella of The Arc Minnesota, which opposes the amendment. The proposal would require citizens to present a photo ID, such as a driver's license, in order to vote. The state would issue free IDs to those requesting them.
Arc believes voter ID would create barriers and burdens for Minnesotans with disabilities, whether they live in a nursing home, a veterans home, a group home, etc.
LeeAnn Erickson, a longtime advocate for the disabled, cited the example of her 91-year-old mother who lives in a nursing home. She said her mom suffered a stroke 12 years ago, and wouldn't be able to go somewhere to get a photo for a picture ID. Rounding up her mom's birth certificate also would be difficult. Erickson said her mother would find the whole process to be a hassle and a hurdle. She worries this situation would be repeated across the state, as citizens would essentially give up their voting rights.
Marquardt agreed with Erickson. Not a fan of constitutional amendments anyway, he said the voter ID proposal represents a national agenda involving voter suppression, with 44 states suddenly taking up the matter. He says alleged voting fraud is a ruse, with proponents pulling obscure numbers out of the air.
"It comes down to: If you throw enough stuff at the wall, something's going to stick," he said of their strategy.
Marquardt also noted millions of dollars in costs to taxpayers for the state-issued IDs, as well as for improved polling place technology, especially for the most rural areas, namely townships.
Finally, he said provisional ballot provisions - which would allow someone to vote, but require verification that they are who they say they are - could delay election results for three to four days. Not being able to obtain election results on the day of the election does not serve our democratic system, he argues.
Gunther worked to calm fears. He said government-sanctioned identification cards will suffice as proof of ID. So military cards issued to veterans will work. He also said nursing home rosters will serve as proof of identification, so people living there will not face new hurdles.
Gunther said provisional ballots have been used for years, so they are not new.
He also noted that in states where voter ID laws have been enacted, there has been more voting, not less.
As for reasons to pass the amendment, Gunther discussed "vouching," in which one citizens tells election judges that another person is who they say they are. Gunther said a van can pull up to a polling place, unload a bunch of people, have one person vouch for them all, and then they all get to vote. Then they all pile back into the van and drive away, and they may or may not have been who they said they were.
Gunther agreed there are costs to implementing voter ID, right down to the $73 each township will get for technology to scan drivers licenses.
While defending the proposed amendment, Gunther acknowledged the concerns and objections of those present, but said the issue is now beyond the realm of lawmakers like himself.
"We're going to find out what the people of Minnesota want," he said. "I encourage everyone to vote their conscience."