March 4, 2012; Source: Minnesota Public Radio

There is a movement underfoot in state legislatures nationwide to craft laws requiring presentation of photo IDs at the polls, and the nonprofit policy group firmly behind the trend is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In 2011, six states, including Texas and Wisconsin, enacted stringent voter ID laws. Most legislators responsible for passing these bills confirm or report ties to ALEC, and similar measures are in the hopper in 31 additional state halls, at various stages of the legislative process. Minnesota’s legislature has now resorted to proposing a constitutional amendment after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed its version of the law last year.

ALEC generates model bills on hundreds of issues. Operating largely under the radar of public scrutiny, ALEC’s civic methodology is a popular tool for right-leaning lawmakers, of whom 2,000 are ALEC members, as are 300 corporate and private participants who pay upwards of $25,000 to join, and additional sums to sit on individual task forces responsible for drafting model laws of interest to them. ALEC’s generic voter ID measure was hammered out in 2009, and the legislative push to codify the requirement gained traction in 2010 when Republicans achieved majority representation in numerous state houses. 

Minnesota’s path is illustrative. State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) is the lead House author of the voter ID amendment. Kiffmeyer also happens to be the Minnesota state chairwoman for ALEC. She asserts her legislation was crafted independently, quipping that, “I may have a novel brain in my head and have a unique thought,” and insisting that she was “not dependent upon somebody else’s idea.” However, the Associated Press compared the ALEC model with Kiffmeyer’s finished product and found similarities in key provisions such as ID requirements and the counting of provisional ballots.  

Minnesota Democrats view the voter ID push as a political ploy. Rep. Ryan Winkler, (DFL-Golden Valley) sees this intention: “It’s a concerted effort to make it more difficult for people who vote Democratic to get to the polls.” And many in the nationwide Occupy movement view the voter ID movement as class warfare. Occupy Minneapolis organizer Scott Hargarten makes this case forcefully, stating that the voter ID juggernaut “has this much momentum because it increases the power of corporations, and the power of the Republican Party, at the expense of the citizen.” –Louis Altman