How one phrase may change the elections system in Minnesota

There is a marvelous story in today’s Minnesota Post about the impact of a proposed voter ID amendment to legislation working its way through the Minnesota legislature.

Without weighing in on the side of the proponents or opponents to the amendment, I think that anyone interested in election law should pay close attention to the debate because it illustrates the complex and embedded nature of election legislation.

In essence, the arguments turn on the intepretation of the phrase substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification and what the implication of this phrase will be on election day registration and absentee balloting.

Takeaway lines, including a quote from my friend and colleague Doug Chapin:

Ritchie and amendment opponents argue that the short phrase is the reason that many of the elections systems that Minnesotans rely on today would have to end.

Kiffmeyer and other supporters, however, say the language is actually the key to keeping Election Day registration and not- in-person voting intact.

Doug Chapin, an elections expert at the University of Minnesota, takes a more cautious view than either the advocates or opponents of the amendment.

He said there’s no way to be sure how absentee, mail-in or military voting would be affected by the “substantially equivalent” language, or what will happen to Election Day registration.

“The first question that has to be answered is what does ‘substantially equivalent’ mean?” he said, noting that the interpretation of a seemingly common-sense string of words in legislation “can be big.”