ST. PAUL -- Lawmakers got into a heated debate during a Wednesday, Jan. 27 legislative hearing as they discussed a voter identification bill, and the broader issue of rumored voter fraud across the state.
The bill in question, Senate File 173, would require Minnesotans to present a valid photo ID in order to vote. State Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who is the prime sponsor of the bill, said he hopes that voter ID could help earn back voters’ trust in the electoral system.
Unfounded theories of widespread voter fraud across the country have taken root, delegitimizing in many Americans’ minds President Joe Biden’s victory over former-President Donald Trump. The 2020 election results have been litigated in courts across the country and judges on both sides of the political spectrum have ruled that the results are legitimate.
The issue reached a fever pitch when extremist supporters of Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was in the process of certifying the election results. Five people died from the riot.
Secretary of State Steve Simon was allotted three minutes to testify before the committee on Wednesday, where he said there are few, isolated instances of voter fraud in Minnesota’s elections. He said a voter ID law could do more harm than good, disenfranchising people who wouldn’t be otherwise.
He harkened back to his Dec. 8 testimony to the same committee, where he lamented the hot political rhetoric that sowed distrust in the presidential election results. At the time, he said that disinformation and conspiracy theories were "tearing us apart" and "poisoning our democracy." He said he worried that things would end in someone’s death.
“I have never been more sorry to be right,” he told the committee on Wednesday.
State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who chairs the Senate’s elections committee and was formerly secretary of state, herself, admonished Simon’s testimony, calling it “accusatory.”
“When I hear words spoken in my committee accusing other people of lies, dangers and other things like that repetitively, it's a great disservice and great disrespect to the citizens of Minnesota,” she said.
In addition to Simon, four others testified, representing the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits, the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters and one election judge who testified as an individual. Each opposed the bill, saying it would be overly burdensome to voters and add costs and labor to elections officials. Minnesotans rejected a constitutional amendment that would have put in place voter ID requirements in 2012.
The Republican-majority committee passed the bill 5-3 on party lines, moving it on to the Senate’s transportation committee.