State Auditor Rebecca Otto (
by Steve Timmer
Jun 18, 2014, 8:00 AM

Can’t people change their minds anymore?

As website sidekick Tony reports here and here, former Minnesota House member and former (and future?) candidate for governor, Matt Entenza, is challenging incumbent State Auditor Rebecca Otto in the August primary. The issues Entenza raises, at least so far, are primarily Otto’s ten-year-plus-old votes on opposing gay marriage and on photo voter ID when she was in the House with Entenza.

As Tony says, Otto expected attacks from the right, but she seems a bit nonplussed by an attack from the left. Well, he didn’t say nonplussed; I’m summarizing a little.

There has been no shortage of comment since Entenza announced his candidacy, and certainly since he filed a complaint in the Office of Administrative Hearings a week later, claiming that Otto violated campaign practices law by lying on Facebook about her position on a couple of 2003 bills on the subject of photo voter ID.

According to the complaint, Entenza is not requesting expedited handling of a probable cause hearing, perhaps believing that the taint of the existence of the complaint is better than a hearing and risking its dismissal. (I offer no opinion on the merits of the complaint.)

There is a good explanation of the procedural machinations surrounding the 2003 photo voter ID language on the MPR website. You need to read it to understand the controversy — really, you do — but in summary, here is the language that Otto approved of and Entenza didn’t:

“A judge may shall, before the applicant signs the [voting] roster, confirm the applicant’s identity by requiring a picture identification card or document issued by the United States or Minnesota or an identification card issued by the tribal government of a tribe recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, and may confirm the applicant’s name, address, and date of birth.”

[MPR continues:] The provision goes on to say that if someone couldn’t produce a photo ID card, they would have to sign an affidavit stating that they are who they say they are. Then, they would be able to vote.

Obviously, the language didn’t make it into the law, because, my already-registered voter friends, when is the last time you were asked to supply a photo ID when you went to vote?

The next time you go to vote, though, (the August primary is your next chance!) inspect more carefully than you ordinarily do the oath that you are signing when you sign the voter roster to get a ballot. You are not only affirming that you are who you say you are, but you are also affirming that you live in the precinct, that you are a citizen of the United States and a resident of Minnesota for 20 days, and that you are under no legal disability to vote (an “on paper” felon or adjudged legally incompetent; this second one is interesting though; if you are incompetent to vote, it would be hard to convict you of the crime of voting while incompetent).

You make this oath on penalty of perjury every time you cast a ballot. The affidavit in the language quoted above would be redundant, although it would amount to some hazing at the polling place. And that kind of stuff does happen.

When I went to vote in 2012, and I got to the front of the line that included “T,” the election judge stabbed a finger at the oath and asked, in kind of a demanding way, “Do you know what this is?” For those of you who don’t know, this is in a precinct that includes the Country Club neighborhood in Edina. I’d lived in the same house for 31 years on election day in 2012.

Later, I regretted not getting the name of the election judge to take it up with the City Clerk, our city’s chief — and very good — election official.

But I digress.

The proposed language would not have changed anything that you to swear to in order to vote, but it might have chased some legally-entitled people away. Perhaps obviously, not me. As MPR says, you could still vote without a photo voter ID that met the criteria.*

In 2003, though, photo voter ID was a sleeper issue, really hardly understood by people, probably including a lot of legislators, for the power of it as a disenfranchisement tool wielded by the GOP. Some people, such as Keith Ellison, and perhaps Matt Entenza, clearly did understand it.

Some eighty percent of voters polled in the year before the election in 2012 thought that photo voter ID was just peachy. If you had asked me in 2003 what I thought about such a requirement, I probably would have said that it sounded like a reasonable idea.

I’ve learned since then about the consequences, and some elderly nuns in Indiana have, too.

If I can change my mind — or even just form a more informed opinion — can’t our public officials do that, too?

Just asking.

It is a good thing people can change their minds, isn’t it?

The same could be said about changing attitudes about gay marriage. In 2003, I didn’t know any gay or lesbian people who were part of a family, had kids, or wanted to get married; I didn’t know that I did, anyway. I am sure I would have told you that I thought it was a silly idea.

And no less a liberal lion than Paul Wellstone voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a vote that he came to publically regret; it does seem that Rebecca Otto was unalterably opposed to the two constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2012.

If photo voter ID and gay marriage are litmus-paper issues for you — and they probably are for more primary voters than the general population — Entenza has to get your vote. I am not here to tell you who to vote for — none of you would listen to me, anyway — but I do hope that you will take a little more nuanced view of it than that, and decide who you think would make the better state auditor.

*Update: In other words, a photo ID wasn’t actually a requirement to vote under the bill.  That does make it different, perhaps a lot different, than the photo voter ID bill that Mark Dayton vetoed in 2011, or even the constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot.

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