Minnesota Senate Republicans, defending a narrow 35-32 majority in the November election, signaled a major push for a new voter ID law in the upcoming legislative session that begins Feb. 11.
Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Nisswa Republican, released a video on social media channels Friday saying the caucus will advocate hard for a law that requires Minnesotans to show their government issued ID card when they vote, even though Minnesotans rejected the idea when it was placed before them as a constitutional amendment in 2012.
“A few years ago we tried to do that. I don’t think it was clear in people’s minds what actually we were trying to do,” Gazelka said.
WE NEED VOTER ID: We care about keeping elections secure in Minnesota, that’s why we will pass legislation to require a photo ID when you vote.
— Minnesota Senate Republicans (@mnsrc) January 24, 2020
“I think with all the things that have been happening around us people want to know the elections are secure,” Gazelka said. “And we’re standing up and saying, ‘This is something we’re going to do.’ It’s going to be a high priority for Republicans in the Senate.”
Given the makeup of the DFL-controlled Minnesota House, Senate Republicans are unlikely to pass a voter ID out of the Legislature, and DFL Gov. Tim Walz would never sign it. When he was asked about it by reporters recently, Walz laughed it off.
Even if the proposal has no chance of becoming law, it could fire up Republican voters, 95 percent of whom support Voter ID laws, according to a 2016 nationwide Gallup poll.
Just a handful of states have strict voter ID laws, among them Mississippi and Wisconsin,
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a second term Democrat whose office oversees statewide election issues, said he was “puzzled” by the Senate Republicans’ drive for voter ID. “I’m not sure what the real problem is that this is meant to address,” he said.
Republicans say voter ID would cut down on in-person voter fraud. President Donald Trump has speculated that his popular vote defeat of nearly 3 million votes to Hillary Clinton was due to voter fraud.
There’s no evidence to support Trump’s claim, and verified instances of voter fraud are rare.
A Brennan Center for Justice 2017 study examined the 42 jurisdictions with a high share of noncitizen residents in the states where Trump alleged voter fraud. Of 23.5 million votes in the 2016 general election in those jurisdictions, officials referred an estimated 30 incidents of suspected noncitizen voting for further investigation or prosecution, or 0.0001%.
“I trust our law enforcement, and they’re the ones who must pursue under state law any possible lead when it comes to voter fraud,” Simon said. Arrests and prosecutions of voter fraud in Minnesota are extremely rare, Simon said.
For years, Democrats have alleged that Republicans are establishing the laws to make it harder for certain Democratic-leaning groups to vote, especially people from communities of color who are less likely to have a picture ID or the means to get one.
Although research suggests the effect of the laws has been modest, the studies also indicate that racial minorities and the elderly are most likely to be hindered from voting by ID laws, according to a 2018 review of the literature by Dan Hopkins, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist.
The 2012 Minnesota constitutional amendment failed by more than 110,000 votes in an election that also saw the DFL take the majority in both legislative chambers and reject another amendment that would have banned gay marriage.
Simon addressed Gazelka’s assertion that Minnesotans did not understand the proposed amendment when it failed. “I don’t think it’s that they misheard or misunderstood. It’s that they didn’t like it,” he said.