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Cottage Grove City Council opposes Voter ID Amendment

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. - Calling it an unfunded mandate, the Cottage Grove City Council tackled a divisive state issue Wednesday, voting to pass a resolution opposing a proposed state constitutional amendment that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

The measure, passed by a 4-1 vote, declared the city's opposition to the proposed amendment on the grounds its passage would have what City Administrator Ryan Schroeder called "a significant financial impact" on Cottage Grove. City officials estimated Wednesday a voter ID requirement could cost the city an additional estimated $18,000 to $36,000 in new equipment and personnel costs each election cycle.

Said Mayor Myron Bailey, who is seeking re-election next month: "Every time a state or federal government passes an unfunded mandate it drives me crazy. And, this is another one of those."

The details of what a state voter ID law would look like -- including what forms of identification would be acceptable and whom would cover the added costs, estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars -- have not been determined; state lawmakers would be required to pass detailed legislation next year if voters approve the proposed amendment Nov. 6.

The amendment would place an undue burden on municipal governments by adding new polling place requirements without new funding, the resolution read, and could disenfranchise voters and discriminate against some groups of voters.

An earlier version also urged residents to vote 'no' on the proposed amendment; that line was struck from the version approved by the Council.

Council member Derrick Lehrke, a Republican candidate for state House in next month's election, voted against the resolution. He disagreed with the resolution's characterization of the amendment and said, by passing it, the city is telling its residents how to cast their ballot.

"I don't feel that's proper," said Lehrke, who also stated his support for the proposed amendment.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat and outspoken critic of the proposed amendment, has estimated the statewide one-time and recurring costs of implementing a voter ID requirement would total $50 million. Other estimates by anti-amendment groups have placed that total far higher; amendment proponents have said the costs would be lower.

Lehrke said the council's resolution amounted to "weighing in at the ninth hour" when it could do nothing to influence the content of the amendment. He also said the costs of implementing a polling place voter ID requirement could fall to the county or state.

"Somebody will pay it," Lehrke said. "We don't know what those costs are."

The proposed amendment leaves too many questions unanswered for local governments, said Council member Justin Olsen, who is also seeking re-election. He also said only issues related to potential costs for the city - not other potential issues, like voter disenfranchisement - were within the council's purview.

"I am interested in voting on things that could force a change in our levy when we don't have any say in it," he said.