Altered Minn. Amendments Spur Partisanship Charges
Charges of partisanship flew both ways Friday at a Minnesota Senate hearing into changes made to two proposed constitutional amendments since the Legislature voted to put them on November's ballot.
Republicans who called the hearing said Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had overstepped his bounds by affixing different ballot titles to the highly charged amendments - one dealing with marriage and the other with voting - and for being so vocal about potential downsides.
"Our secretary of state has crossed the line in this particular instance and is being partisan," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.
Democrats on the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee said Republicans were the ones with the political agenda and were misusing the state's founding document to advance it.
Voters will decide this fall whether to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution and change polling place procedures, including making photo identification a requirement for voting. The Republican-led Legislature placed both on the ballot, bypassing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton who had no ability to block them.
Ritchie angered Republican lawmakers and their allies by rewriting the titles that will appear above each question. They say his revisions cast both proposals in a negative light and they're worried the language will sway undecided voters. They also accused the chief election's official of campaigning against the amendments, particularly the photo ID measure, during appearances across the state.
"What he is doing is attempting to influence the voters in the state of Minnesota on this issue," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who sponsored the amendment related to voting. "That is not his job."
Sen. Barb Goodwin, a Democrat from Columbia Heights, defended Ritchie.
"It's his duty to tell people what he thinks this law will do and how it will affect the voting system in Minnesota," she said.
Amendment opponents say the focus on the photo ID requirement masks bigger changes it would have on voting. The amendment would require lawmakers for the first time to establish a provisional balloting system for people who lack the proper identification, which remains vague in itself.
Ritchie turned down an invitation to testify, sending legal adviser Bert Black instead.
Black told the panel Ritchie was properly exercising his power under state law dating to 1919 to provide amendment titles. He said the secretary's office doesn't consider the new name to be a change because it isn't the Legislature's discretion to fashion titles. Only once before have lawmakers provided a title, he said.
"I don't know if you can change something that was improper in the first place," Black said.
The title dispute has made its way to the courts. Supporters of both amendments have sued to overturn Ritchie's revised ballot titles. The Supreme Court has scheduled a July 31 hearing and expects to rule on the case within a month.
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