Minnesota Voter ID: State Legislature Bypasses Gov. Mark Dayton, Puts Measure On Ballot

By David Bailey

MINNEAPOLIS, April 4 (Reuters) - A controversial voter photo ID requirement will be on the ballot in Minnesota in November after the Republican-led legislature gave its approval on Wednesday.

The legislature's move bypasses Democratic Governor Mark Dayton - who vetoed a voter ID bill last year - and puts the proposed amendment to the state's constitution directly in the hands of voters.

State senators voted along party lines on Wednesday to put the measure on the ballot. The state's representatives gave their approval shortly after midnight.

The votes 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 the laws are aimed at keeping their supporters such as minorities and the elderly from the polls.

Republican supporters have said voter ID laws were needed to prevent voter fraud and that same-day registration, absentee-voting, mail-in balloting, and access to voting for college students and the military would be allowed.

"We are truly not targeting any class of voters except those voters who are attempting to vote and doing so illegally or not being eligible," Republican Senator Scott Newman, the sponsor, said.

Republican Senator Warren Limmer said the amendment was aimed at modernizing a 19th-century system of registration.

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.

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.

Newman said he was expecting a legal challenge.

The ACLU of Minnesota civil liberties group and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota have opposed the amendment and executive directors of both organizations said Wednesday they were considering several options including potential legal challenges.

"This is just voter suppression, they dress it up in a pretty gown and put lipstick on it, but it is voter suppression," said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota.

Laura Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota, said the amendment would limit rights where historically the constitution has been amended to expand rights.

Dayton has said he will campaign against the amendment.

The legislature next year would have to lay out the rules for applying the amendment if voters approve it in November.

Democratic Senator John Marty said it was unclear how photo ID would be implemented under the proposed amendment.

"Even if we fudge all the details and don't care how it is actually implemented and just say, 'Don't worry the future legislature will fix it,' I think the bottom line is we all know this bill will disenfranchise people," Marty 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 joins a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Minnesota on the ballot. (Editing by Eric Beech)