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Washington County Board backs photo ID at polls

Washington County commissioners declared their support for a legislative effort to require Minnesotans to show photo identification before voting.

County Board members voted unanimously last week to support requiring identification to cast a ballot. That resolution came on the same day a bill authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, that would require voters to have photo identification to vote -- and would do away with the practice of vouching to prove residency on Election Day -- passed a Minnesota House committee.

Legislative debate over the proposal is contentious. Republicans generally support the measure, calling it a common-sense step to prevent against voter fraud. Democrats strongly oppose it, citing costs and concerns over whether some groups of voters have valid photo identification. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has called the ID bill "a solution in search of a problem."

As debate at the Capitol heats up, Washington County commissioners weighed in. Commissioner Dennis Hegberg of Forest Lake proposed a resolution to support the proposed photo identification requirement.

"In this world we live in today, I think it would only be appropriate," he said.

Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek, whose district includes a portion of Woodury, called the measure "a no-brainer." Minnesotans are forced to prove their identity for countless daily tasks, he said.

"You need a photo I.D. to get in the Woodbury Food Shelf, for God's sake," Pulkrabek said. "But you don't have to have an I.D. to vote? Come on."

Commissioners Autumn Lehrke of Cottage Grove and Lisa Weik of Woodbury also backed the resolution.

No local problems

Identification-related voter fraud has not been detected in recent elections in Washington County, said Kevin Corbid, the county's elections director.

"I'm not aware of any type of substantial voter impersonation of that kind," he said.

Corbid side-stepped taking a position on the proposal before the County Board Feb. 8, telling commissioners: "That's a policy decision." But he did say bill could raise some problems for the county's small elections staff.

For the first time, polling places would have to deal with provisional balloting, where voters unable to produce a government-issued photo identification card with their current address could fill out a special ballot that would be set aside from the rest. Within five days, Corbid said, the voter could produce valid photo identification to county officials to have their vote counted.

Corbid said that could slow results or alter vote totals up to a week after Election Day.

Provisional balloting requirements would "just kind of adding another task during that same period of time" after Election Day, Corbid said.

New photo ID requirements could be onerous for election officials, warned Commissioner Gary Kriesel of Stillwater. Though he supported the resolution, Kriesel said should the bill become law it could represent another unfunded mandate from the state.

"Fundamentally, I agree," Kriesel said. "But be careful what you wish for."