Monday, October 01, 2012

The mythical impact of Photo ID on military voters, Part 1

Over the last month, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has been very actively pushing the claim that the Photo ID amendment on the ballot next month will prevent Minnesota military voters from being able to cast a ballot.  This claim has been echoed by leaders and activists in the DFL party, including DFL chair Ken Martin and former SecState Joan Growe.  Secretary Ritchie in particular has come under fire for his aggressive efforts to defeat the amendment, triggering stinging rebukes from the Gold Star Mothers of Minnesota and the Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars.  But the real controversy surrounding Sec Ritchie’s claim is that it is completely and demonstrably false.

In order to come to the conclusion that Minnesota military voters will be prevented from voting, you have to follow a twisted line of reasoning that goes like this;
     -If passed, the voter ID amendment will require a Photo ID that includes the voter’s current address (FALSE)
    -Military ID cards do not include addresses (TRUE)
    -Members of the military move more often than civilians, therefore they are less likely to have a current Photo ID with an up to date address (PLAUSIBLE)
    -Military leaders around the globe will choose to interpret a state law in the most narrow and literal sense, and refuse to sign the absentee ballot witness statement (FALSE)

The truth of the matter could not be farther from the scenario Sec Ritchie presents.  First, there is no requirement, either in the actual language on the ballot or the proposed language to amend the Constitution, to require an address on your Photo ID.  This isn’t an assumption on the Secretary’s part-it is a transparent fabrication in order to manufacture a red herring.  Sec Ritchie is claiming that only a Photo ID with an address will suffice-but the proposed amendment simply states that a ‘government issued photographic identification’ is needed.  This simple fact undercuts the entire argument from the start.  Every member of the United States military, whether overseas or on American soil, is required to have a Photo ID. In fact, the military uses the current ID card for so much more than you would think.

Today’s military ID card is not the hand written and laminated square of plastic from years gone by. Today we use a ‘CAC’ or Common Access Card. It is a smart card that combines Photo ID with computer encryption to create a digital ID.  CAC cards are used with a password to sign on to government computers, affix a digital signature on documents, and electronically sign for your military issue clothing and equipment.  Today’s military ID is required for daily military life, which is why today’s military members ALWAYS have their Photo ID with them.  That means Minnesotans serving in the military ALWAYS have the specific form of Photo ID required by the proposed amendment to vote.

So if military voters will have the required Photo ID, what else will they need to do to cast a ballot?  Well, just like with the current absentee ballot, they will need to show that Photo ID to a notary or witness who is a registered voter in MN.  So who in the military will be able to sign the witness statement?  On large active duty bases as well as Navy ships at sea, federal law and military regulation requires a designated voting assistance office, where soldiers and sailors can bring their absentee ballot, fill in their choices, and have the ballot sealed by a commissioned officer who serves as the witness.  At smaller bases or for Guard and Reserve unit deployments, each unit appoints a Voting Assistance Officer, who is required to be knowledgeable and available to assist servicemembers with voting.  In either case, the notion that military members will be unable to prove their identity to a fellow servicemember who has been trained in voting procedures is simply laughable.

And just for reference purposes, Army Regulation 27-55 lays out the process for military notary services, which by federal law take precedence over state law.  In addition to all Judge Advocate officers and senior enlisted members, all commissioned officers in the US military have the legal authority to swear an oath for another servicemember.  Also, each unit appointed Voting Assistance Officer has the authority to act a witness on an absentee ballot, according to the Army Voting Action Plan 2012.

But for argument’s sake, let’s delve into the Secretary’s fantasy world of addresses being required on a Photo ID.  Let’s stipulate, for a moment, that the 2013 Legislature and the Secretary of State’s office work together to interpret the amendment in the strictest and most anal retentive way possible, and addresses were required to be on your Photo ID.  In that fantasy world, military voters will still have absolutely no problem casting a ballot.  Why? Because the language of the amendment states that those not voting in person must be subject to ‘substantially equivalent” identity verification before being allowed to vote.  It does not say the same, it does not say equal, and it does not even say Photo ID.  Substantially equivalent.  So how does a servicemember prove his or her legal address?

The military is in the process of doing away with paper forms (saving millions of trees no doubt) but we still keep extensive and duplicate records on our members, now mostly on computer.  My legal address is captured in no less than half a dozen official forms in the military. W-4 lists my address for tax purposes.  SF-1199A requires my address for Direct Deposit of my military pay.  DD-2876 requires my address to enroll in the military health care plan called Tricare.  DA-5960 requires my address in order to pay a housing allowance, along with needing a copy of my current mortgage or lease which, of course, shows my legal address.  Anytime Reserve/National Guard members are placed on active duty, our orders capture the current home of record for pay purposes.  DA 2058 explicitly requires me to give my current legal residence so that the military can notify the tax collectors in that state.  Married members of the military are required to give their home address on DD-1561 (Authorization of Family Separation Pay), SGLV-8286 (Designation of Beneficiaries of Life Insurance), and good old DD-93, (Record of Emergency Data), which needs my address in the event I am killed in action.

What do all the above forms (and dozens of others I missed) have in common?  They are legal documents which require me to state my address for official military purposes.  Giving a false address on any of these could result in prosecution for fraud by military authorities.  So, any one of these documents would satisfy the ‘substantially equivalent’ clause of the proposed amendment.  Secretary Ritchie’s claim requires you to believe that I would take my absentee ballot, military ID and any of the above forms to my platoon leader to act as a witness, and he would then have to tell me ‘sorry, but I can’t be sure if you actually are who you say you are’.  2nd Lieutenants in the military are the butt of many jokes, but I’ve yet to find one that obtuse.

Secretary Ritchie’s outrageous claim that military voters will be prevented from voting is based on false propaganda (address required on the Photo ID), assumes the worst interpretation of ‘substantially equivalent’ even though that is not in line with the spirit or intent of the law, and then posits the concept that NCO’s and officers in uniform will be complicit in preventing military voters from casting their ballot by refusing to attest to their identity.  The fact that Secretary Ritchie can repeat this claim with a straight face would be laughable if it wasn’t so insulting to the intelligence of Minnesota voters.  But the fact that Sec Ritchie has singled out military families and veterans groups to make this claim to is over the top partisan political campaigning, and it has started a backlash. 

Part 2 tomorrow-the firestorm of criticism and outrage by members of the Minnesota Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in reaction to Sec Ritchie’s claim.  Fair warning-combat veterans are not known for pulling their punches.

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