By: Cullen Enabnit
An ongoing trend following the 2020 election pushed state legislatures to introduce more and more laws aimed at curtailing perceived voter fraud or the potential of it. One of the main ways states have approached this is by enacting different levels of voter identification laws. Currently there are 36 states that have some form of voter ID laws. Seven states currently have what is described as “strict” voter ID laws that require the voter to present one of a limited set of government issued IDs, and being without will prevent them from being able to vote.
These increased efforts on the part of GOP legislators to institute voter ID laws have cropped up all across the country and Minnesota is no exception. Last term there was a big push by the GOP-controlled state senate to enact a strict voter ID law. The bill was introduced by Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) and was framed by him and his co-authors as an effort to increase the confidence of voters and less about preventing a current problem of voter fraud. The bill was introduced in January at the start of term and faced backlash from legislators and even the Secretary of State for Minnesota, Steve Simon, who feared that it could lead to the disenfranchisement of “hundreds of thousands of voters”. But this opposition did not stop the bill from being heard in the State Government Finance and Policy and Elections committee. In committee the bill was passed after having the chair of the committee, Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), added as a co-author. Senator Kiffmeyer has been very vocal about the necessity of these changes attacking the confidence in the security of the most recent election, the partisan nature of the proposals, and even the perceived difficulty in prosecuting voter fraud. With comments like these, the eventual floor flight that took place and tight vote margin are not entirely surprising.
In May of the legislative term, following subsequent passages from related committees, the bill SF 173 was passed as amended in a vote of 34-32 based purely on party lines. The bill was referred to the Minnesota House of Representatives which is controlled by the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), Minnesota’s version of the Democratic party. The bill was read and referred to committee where it was never voted on. Ultimately this seems to be the likely fate of GOP backed election security bills. As we head into the new legislative term in January it will be interesting to see if GOP and DFL legislators go around in the same circle again as both houses will stay in control of their respective parties. An additional layer of scrutiny will be added on as long-time majority leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) has announced his candidacy for governor, which will be voted on next November. Will Gazelka, who stepped down as majority leader at the same time and was also a co-author on SF 173, propose similar or even more drastic legislation as he looks to toughen up his resume ahead of the election? Or will we see his replacement, Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), attempt to limit such legislation and work with Democrats on more realistic solutions? Either way, Minnesota seems to be an interesting and exciting space to watch as the new legislative session kicks off January 31, 2022.