The Photo ID Constitutional Amendment Debate: Does Voter Fraud Happen in Minnesota?

This week on, I will be examining the messaging from opponents and proponents of the constitutional amendment to require a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID to vote.  As I’ve noted before, I’m voting yes on the amendment.

Our Vote Our Future – an organization which opposes the constitutional amendment to produce a government-issued photo ID headed by former Vice-President Walter Mondale, former Governor Arne Carlson and former Congressman Tim Penny, has released a new ad called “Simple Thing.” The goal of the ad is to refute the reasons why people like me support the photo ID constitutional amendment. I’ve watched the ad numerous times, along with advertisements from supporters of the photo ID amendment,

I want to start with the claim of whether Minnesota has voter fraud.  Below is a screen capture of the text on Our Vote Our Future’s ad about voter fraud in Minnesota. The text clearly states “MINNESOTA HAS NO VOTER FRAUD”, but the voice-over audio is much different.

This is what the announcer on the ad says: “Well, voter fraud is just not a problem right now. After two recounts where we scrutinized every vote, we’ve learned Minnesota has pretty much has no voter fraud.”  Let’s dissect the statement from the announcer.  She says “…voter fraud is just not a problem right now” – this sentence indicates voter fraud was once a problem in Minnesota. The supporters of this ad may not think voter fraud is a current problem, but even their own ad indicates it has happened.  In the second part of the statement, please note the difference between the spoken words and the audio on the screen.  The announcer says “Minnesota has pretty much no voter fraud”, but the ad text states “MINNESOTA HAS NO VOTER FRAUD.” There is a difference between the two statements.

The two statements – one spoken and one spelled out in text – cannot both be factually correct.  Either voter fraud has happened or it hasn’t in Minnesota.  The opponents of this amendment may believe the examples of voter fraud that have occurred in Minnesota to be de minimis, but they still happened.  I will propose it’s likely that even the people who designed this advertisement were aware of voter fraud examples in Minnesota otherwise they wouldn’t have parsed the words. Why have two different messages?  Either Minnesota has “no voter fraud” or “pretty much no voter fraud” – but not both.

While there is a passionate disagreement about the need for the constitutional amendment requiring photo ID, voter fraud happens in Minnesota. As noted above, even an organization opposing the amendment needed to add words like “pretty much” to their ad to ensure accuracy of the statement about voter fraud in Minnesota.

Aside from Our Vote Our Future, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is opposed to the photo ID constitutional amendment.  I visited their website and found this on the page “What to say to fight photo ID”:

“Fact: Despite a massive investigation by photo ID proponents, there were only 160 voter eligibility violation cases filed in 2011, and only 140 convictions. All of which were felons voting before they were eligible. 2,700,000 votes were cast in 2010 primary and general elections. That is a .006% rate of error. Contrast that with the 45% of eligible voters who did not vote in 2010, which is the bigger problem?” Source: American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota 

The ACLU’s number is 140 – Minnesota Majority, an organization which supports the constitutional amendment requiring photo ID released a report in 2011 which stated 113 convictions for voter fraud. They claim the number has grown closer to 200.  Either way, both groups on opposite sides of this issue both cite examples of voter fraud convictions in Minnesota.  The only disagreement is on the size and scope of the problem and if the constitutional amendment requiring a photo ID is the solution or is a solution in search of a problem. 

Finally, one disagreement is on the definition of voter fraud.  I’m a Minnesotan, born and raised.  As a Minnesotan supporting the constitutional amendment requiring photo ID, I believe if someone votes in an election and they are not legally allowed to vote – voter fraud has occurred. My definition is open to debate and disagrement.  But I believe most Minnesotans would agree with my definition of voter fraud and that voter fraud happens. I’ll be issuing a Hook, Line and Sinker Fact Check of this ad later in the week.  Check back to for additional posts on the constitutional amendment to require a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID to vote.



  1. Both parties play the turnout game. Democrats would prefer hordes of voters on college campuses and in inner cities; Republicans would prefer the opposite; both sides do what they can to get as many of “their” voters to the polls as possible.

    But when tactics turn from encouraging one’s own voters to vote and setting up legal barriers to prevent the other side from doing so, that is something much nastier—particularly when those most directly impacted by these legal barriers were similarly barred from voting by “legal” barriers for most of this country’s history. Eventually, and sooner rather than later, demography will make this sort of strategy unworkable for electoral reasons. Until then, we ought to recognize it for what it is: deliberate voter suppression, and a betrayal of democracy.

  2. “There is no evidence of fraud in this election. And maybe it’s the law out there; maybe it’s the character of the people in Minnesota. We don’t have any fraud.”

    Joe Friedberg, arguing before the Minnesota Supreme Court, 01 June 2009

    But hey – who believes lawyers, anyway?

  3. Note the date of the quote Tommy: Most of the analysis on voter fraud on both sides of the issue has occurred after Friedberg made this statement. Since more time has passed from the 2008 election, the record has become more and more clear. It was a good quote and talking point in 2009, but not anymore.

    • Michael, that’s not just a “talking point” & “quote” – it’s testimony at a Supreme Court hearing, during oral arguments. And that testimony is part of the record from here to eternity. The election was in early November; every ballot was examined multiple times, and nearly 8 months later the GOP Lawyer testified “There is no evidence of fraud in this election.”

  4. I’m interested in your comment about you believeing if someone votes who is not eligible to vote it is fraud. A quick dictionary review of the word fraud reads: a person or thing INTENDED to decieve others. If a majorty of the problem is felons voting before they have completed the terms of their sentence – does it matter if these individuals KNEW they couldn’t vote to get to a determination of fraud?

  5. Mary Kay: Thanks for your comment. If a ballot is cast by someone who wasn’t legally allowed to vote – my legally cast ballot has been diluted by fraudulent ballot. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for failing to follow the law. The focus of the post is about whether voter fraud happens in Minnesota and organizations on both sides of the issue agree that it has happened in Minnesota.

    • How these laws would affect turnout and votes is hard to say.Although it would be awkward, to say the least, if Mr Romney won because new laws kept some of Mr Obama’s supporters from voting.

    • Michael,

      Barb is right – words have meaning, and meaning matters. Fraud has a specific meaning, and it doesn’t include everything that is illegal, illegitimate or erroneous.

      As you note, and as all parties acknowledge, there have been a handful of instances in Minnesota where some sort of improper voting has occurred. Fraud has a specific legal meaning as well as the common-sense meaning Mary Ann identified. There have been no convictions of voter “fraud” that I am aware of, because the instances don’t fall within the legal meaning of the word. Nor do they honestly fall within the common-sense meaning of fraud. They are no more example of “voter fraud” than they are of “voter murder,” “voter larceny” or “voter jaywalking.”

      I think proponents of the legislation throw around the term “voter fraud” mainly because it sounds scary and because it suggests the issues could be fixed by a voter identification requirement. That’s intentionally misleading. The reality is that the voting issues that are out there are for all intents and purposes NOT fraud and would NOT be prevented by any sort of identification requirement. The misuse of words by opponents tries to hide that fact.

      As for the ad… I think it is typical for textual bullet points and headlines to have short, punch statements with nuance and disclaimers delivered along with it. In some circumstances this can be misleading, but here, I think it is pretty clear to the recipient of the ad that while you should “never say never,” there is no meaningful voter fraud.

      Now to diverge into my two cents for a moment… I get the concern you have about your vote being cancelled out. But there is absolutely no evidence to suggest a single fraudulent vote would be prevented by voter ID. On the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that a significant number of legitimate votes will be discarded as a result of the voter ID amendment as proposed. So if you are truly concerned about the integrity of the election process and getting a result that is as accurate a representation of the voting public as possible, voter ID as proposed is hands down a counterproductive and destructive process.

  6. quick follow up: it would be interesting for you to foster a dialog about what ineligible people vote, why, and what the responsible response to that should be…if you are looking for a thoughtful discussion on the merits of the amendment I would encourage such a dialog. that might acutally provde an educational and useful discussion. just my two cents…

  7. Great point Mark Kay. I’ll work up a post on that subject. But when a former vice-president, a former governor and a former member of congress all lend their names to an organization opposed to a constitutional amendment, the group’s ad warrant examination. You haven’t refuted my analysis or provided any information to correct the inaccurate statements made in the ad. Comments and criticisms are always welcomed. Keep the ideas and comments coming.

  8. A couple of things about these laws that make me uneasy. They do not make me a confirmed opponent, but they make me nervous. First is cost. For such laws not to constitute an undue burden, states cannot charge people for photo-IDs. MN will have to spend time and money making sure voters are aware of the new laws. According to a Brennan Center report, around 11% of voters nationally lack government-issued photo IDs. A few mil here and a few mil there may not sound like much, but when state budgets are tight it those costs add up.

    Second, a related point: voter fraud is rare and these laws would be largely ineffective against it. Far from preserving the integrity of the electoral process, one could argue that these laws imperil it by stoking fears of a rare crime and using it to cast doubt on an election’s outcome.

  9. I thought the supposition of this site was that it would publish nonpartisan news, not just be another partisan clearinghouse for unsubstantiated rumors. Is it not true that Mary Kiffmeyer told the Uptake that Photo IDs would not prevent felons from voting?

    (unless it hurt their consciences in some magical, unspecified way that signing a roster, being told it’s a felony, and voting anyway does not)

    Is it not also true that Mary Kiffmeyer voted against providing felon lists to the Secretary of State to remove them from the roster and then successfully petitioned Governor Pawlenty to veto the bill when that failed?

    Considering felon fraud is the only type of vote fraud being recorded in Minnesota, it seems obvious that proponents of Photo IDs did nothing to prevent the only fraud occurring and have offered no solutions to prevent it.

    If in-person voter impersonation is occurring, then why is there no paper trail of voters showing up to find they’ve already voted or voters dead before election day signed into the roster. There is none.

  10. Be sure to keep me updated with each post about voter fraud Michael. Thanks, Tony Cornish

  11. A simple way to fix fraudulent voting by felons: Do what many other states have done and say that once someone finishes their incarceration, let them vote. Of the 140 cases cited above, that would take care of about 138 of them.

    “Intent” to commit fraud does have a moral difference than unknowingly committing fraud. I got too much change back at a store a couple months ago. I stuck it in my pocket and didn’t look at it until an hour later. Did I rob the store? I hope I couldn’t be convicted of something.

    BTW, a couple states even let prisoners vote. I have to say that seems humane to me, but I won’t quibble over that. But, I do think voting rights should be restored the minute you leave prison and re-enter society.

  12. How will the proposed amendment affect those convicted felons on parole (and whose voting rights have not been restored)? Will these new IDs now have a big “C” for convicted on it?

    How do you propose that the many rural precincts in greater Minnesota who conduct all elections by mail handle the voter ID issue? Will they have to revert to traditional Election Day voting? Where will the additional election judges needed to implement this new amendment come from? We can’t find election judges now, much less find more.

    Finally, who pays? I find it ironic that the party of smaller government is pushing a massive and complex program onto the backs of local taxpayers. As an impartial observer of the 2 recalls and numerous post-election audits, I have yet to see any evidence of the “problem” you keep telling me exists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.