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Minnesota's "NO" Vote on Voter ID: What It Means

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[Image courtesy of MinnPost]

On Tuesday, Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required voters to show photo ID at the polls. The result marked the end of nearly two years of fierce partisan debate, including sharply divided legislative votes, a gubernatorial veto, and several court cases about the wisdom of voter ID, the language of the ballot amendment and the potential impact of voter ID on the state's election system.

What, then, is the significance of the defeat of voter ID?

In Minnesota, it's pretty clear that the amendment's rejection, when combined with a return to Democratic control of the Legislature, means that voter ID is likely not to make much progress for the foreseeable future. ID supporters in the new Republican minority have vowed to continue the fight, but absent a compromise they no longer have the votes to prevail. It will be interesting to see if the issue disappears completely, or if the two sides look for another way to come together on a different approach to combating perceived problems at the polls.

The bigger impact, however, could come nationally. Until now, one of the strongest talking points in favor of voter ID was that it was a common-sense requirement supported overwhelmingly by the public. Minnesota's rejection of voter ID provides a counterpoint to that argument; indeed, I would expect that from now on voter ID opponents across the nation will point to the Minnesota result as evidence that not all voters think ID is a good idea, let alone common sense. That will require ID supporters in other states to distinguish how their ID proposal differs from Minnesota's - or why their state's voters might not follow the Gopher State's lead.

I also think the Minnesota vote means that details matter on voter ID; given the nationwide coverage of the ID debate, voters are much more sophisticated about how ID laws turn on the types of ID required and the process for obtaining them. One of the biggest talking points of ID opponents in Minnesota was the lack of details on what the law would do; absent those, they were able to fill in the blanks (unfairly, supporters claimed) in such a way that made voters nervous. To combat that, ID supporters in other states may have to consider including more details up front - details that might make legislative majorities (if not voter majorities) correspondingly more difficult to achieve.

The "no" vote on voter ID doesn't mark the end of the discussion - in Minnesota or nationwide - but I do think the case for ID just got a lot more complicated. It will be interesting to see the consequences in statehouses across the nation.

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