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Voter ID bill passes Senate with changes

BISMARCK -- North Dakota voters may have to present identification before they can cast a ballot at the next election.

Senate lawmakers Wednesday passed an amended House Bill 1332 by a 30-16 vote, which will eliminate the voter affidavit process that allows a voter to cast a ballot without proof of eligibility.

Currently, people who can't prove residency at the polls can vote by signing an affidavit that says they are a North Dakota resident.

The House will have to agree to the Senate's changes before it is sent to Gov. Jack Dalrymple for his signature. If they do not, the bill will be sent to a conference committee to hash out the differences.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Randy Boehning, R-Fargo, and other lawmakers have been concerned about the current system, arguing it leads to voter fraud.

Opponents of the proposal raised concerns that requiring identification will make it difficult for elderly people and college students to obtain an ID because they are physically unable to or do not have a permanent residence to obtain one.

The bill requires the Department of Transportation to provide free nondriver identification to anyone without a driver's license -- carrying a price tag of about $12,000 and a loss of about $245,000 in revenues in the upcoming biennium.

"Allowing them to have an ID at no cost increases access to the ballot and most certainly protects the integrity of that ballot," said Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck.

Opponents of the measure also said the change was not needed.

During the 2012 election, 10,519 affidavits were signed, 379 were returned to the county auditor as unverifiable, and nine are now being prosecuted as fraudulent, all out of a total of 325,000 votes.

From 2000 to 2010, only one case of voter fraud was criminally prosecuted in the state, said Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks.

"While the act of voter fraud is serious, it is also virtually unheard of in North Dakota," Schneider said. "We're spending taxpayer funds on a so-called solution to a problem that has arisen, at most, a couple times in the last two decades and has never impacted the outcome of an election."

Sen. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, said college students move often, sometimes every year, and don't have a permanent residence and struggle to obtain a proper ID.

Dever said the problem is being fixed.

The secretary of state's office has been working with the university system to create a document for students to take to the polls that affirms their college residence and demonstrates their eligibility to vote.

Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, said she held a forum at a retirement home, where many residents said they did not have an identification or the materials needed to obtain one, such as a birth certificate, and are unable to get to a Department of Transportation office.

The state currently requires identification to vote that includes a voter's name, address and age. Voters can use a combination of any state-issued identification, along with a utility bill or change of address verification to prove residency. IDs currently accepted include: driver's licenses, military IDs, passports, tribal government IDs and student IDs.

But the state also allows people without such identification to fill out an affidavit.

North Dakota does not have voter registration.