- - Thursday, September 13, 2012

When the polls closed on the November 2008 U.S. Senate election, I was ahead of Al Franken for the Minnesota seat by 215 votes out of nearly 3 million votes that had been cast.

Eight months later, Al Franken was declared the winner of the recount with a margin of 312 votes. A few months after that, Obamacare passed the U.S. Senate on a straight party-line, filibuster-proof 60 votes.

I have no desire to re-litigate the 2008 election, but elections matter.

Because the consequences of elections are so significant, all sides should agree that ensuring the confidence of the governed is critical to the effective functioning of democracy.

In 2008, we learned that in Minnesota, there were a number of precincts in which there were more votes than voters — and throughout the state, more than 1,000 felons voted. The extreme left-leaning political organization ACORN registered more than 40,000 voters in 2008. This is the same organization that had its funding repealed by a bipartisan vote in Congress after it was revealed that it consistently has engaged in fraudulent practices to register voters in other states. According to the organization Minnesota Majority, 113 people are known to have been convicted of voter fraud committed in Minnesota in 2008.

Elected officials govern with the consent of the governed. If there is a question of whether that consent was truly given, the credibility of our democratic system of government is called into question.

In 2005, the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, concluded that our “electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter and detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.” As a result, the Carter-Baker Commission recommended that states adopt a photo-identification system.

As Mr. Carter said at that time, “Some critics of voter IDs think the government cannot do this job, but Mexico and most poor countries in the world have been able to register and give IDs to almost all their citizens. Surely the United States can do it, too.”

The commission could have been talking about Minnesota in 2008 when the report noted, “The right to vote is a vital component of U.S. citizenship, and all states should use their best efforts to obtain proof of citizenship before registering voters.” The report continued, “In close or disputed elections, and there are many, a small amount of fraud could make the margin of difference.”

In fact, 31 states have a photo-ID requirement, including liberal Rhode Island, which passed a voter-ID statute in 2011 with significant support from black and Latino legislators.

In states that have photo-ID requirements, participation in elections has increased.

Still, much gnashing of teeth takes place on the left each time the issue of voter fraud is raised in America. Instead of embracing the notion that we should do everything possible to ensure the cleanest and most integrated elections in the world, the left pillories those who call for ballot reform.

Common sense should prevail in this debate, not the supercharged rhetoric of those who claim there is no evidence of voter fraud or, conversely, of those who claim voter fraud is rampant in America. Isn’t it strange that in states like Minnesota that do not have photo-ID laws, you have to prove where you live, but not who you are, in order to vote?

This issue has been put before Minnesotans in the form of an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, with the question: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

Opponents of the amendment have attempted to befuddle Minnesotans with cries of racism and Jim Crow laws, suggesting that there is a parallel between requiring a photo ID to vote and levying a poll tax. The scare tactics are easy to refute but difficult to convey in a public debate that is becoming increasingly hostile and deliberately confusing.

The vast majority of those who support photo-identification laws do so to ensure that the rights of all voters are protected. The right to vote is the most sacred of exercises in a democracy. The existence of fraud — or the threat of potential fraud — should be guarded against with diligence and serious protections.

In America, the power of democracy and the ballot box has changed the course of our nation’s history time and time again. With the exception of the Civil War, there has been no more powerful tool in altering the course of America’s society, culture, politics and the nation’s future than the ballot box.

It’s because of this solemn, sacred and awesome power that we should take all reasonable measures, including requiring a valid photo identification at the ballot box, to protect this crucial instrument of American democracy.

Norm Coleman is a former Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota.

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