Amendment proposals become legal battles over words
ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Supreme Court is being asked to mediate battles over words in a pair of constitutional amendment proposals voters will decide Nov. 6.
The latest squabble to land in the high court came Monday when Republicans sued Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for changing the title of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages. The court will hear the case July 31.
Hours after marriage amendment filed their court challenge, Ritchie rewrote the title of the second amendment going in front of voters. A legislative author of that proposal, to require Minnesotans to produce photo identification before voting, expects to ask the high court to rule on that change too.
A Supreme Court hearing on another photo ID wording dispute already is scheduled for July 17.
The two title battles pit Democrats Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson, whose office backed Ritchie's changes, against Republicans who support the two amendment proposals.
Ritchie claims state law gives him the duty to write a title for proposed constitutional amendments. Republicans say Ritchie is overstepping his authority because of politics.
"When I look at this, I just think it is very unfortunate that we have a secretary of state that is using his constitutional office for partisan, political purposes," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, prime Senate photo ID author.
"Mark Ritchie has opposed the marriage amendment and he has opposed the photo ID amendment at every possible turn that he could," Newman added. "I sincerely question whether this guy has a conflict of interest in being politically motivated."
Spokesmen for Ritchie and Swanson said the officials would not comment on the court actions.
Newman said he expects to take Ritchie to court over the photo ID title change, like supporters of the marriage amendment did earlier Monday.
Ritchie on Monday announced he would require ballots to list "Changes to in-person and absentee voting and voter registration; provisional ballots" as the photo ID title. The Legislature-passed title is: "Photo identification required for voting."
Republicans say the Ritchie title is misleading and meant to drive up "no" votes. They also say the title does not even mention photo ID.
Republican legislators and Minnesota for Marriage, an umbrella group supporting the marriage amendment, Monday asked the high court to return the title to how it passed the Legislature: "Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman."
Ritchie rewrote the title to be: "Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples."
While justices have no deadline to decide the issues, or even if they will take up the cases, in another lawsuit Ritchie told the court that Aug. 27 is the latest ballot wording can be changed.
When the proposed amendments reached Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's desk, he vetoed them, even though he has no say in proposed constitutional amendments - they go directly from the Legislature to voters. Ritchie said the veto stripped the amendment of its title and it is his job to make sure each constitutional amendment proposal has a title.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said that changing the title violates the state Constitution because that decision belongs to legislators. "Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is attempting to subvert the will of the people of Minnesota."
The Legislature carefully considered the title for the marriage amendment, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said. "We had a great deal of debate."
While Swanson and Ritchie refused to talk, other Democrats voiced their thoughts.
"Yet again, we see Republicans wasting taxpayer time and money on frivolous issues, none of which will put anyone back to work or do anything positive for Minnesota," Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said.
Photo ID opponents, mostly Democrats, say the amendment would end same-day voter registration and mean many ballots would not be counted. Republicans deny those charges and say photo identification is needed to ensure that only eligible voters cast ballots.
Next week's hearing on the photo ID proposal stems from four organizations and five individual voters who sued in high court after filing paperwork saying the ballot question is vague and misleading.