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Minn. House speaker stumbles over voting 'right'

ST. PAUL — Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers revised remarks about voting Thursday after it appeared he had challenged a constitutional underpinning of the right to vote.

Zellers told a radio show host Wednesday night that he regarded voting as a privilege rather than a right. After the audio spread, the Republican lawmaker told the Associated Press he misspoke and that he understands the right to vote is spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.

Voting rights are enshrined several places in the Constitution and federal law, but a person's ability to vote can be revoked over felony convictions.

On "The Late Debate" show — an after-dark program hosted by Republican strategist Jack Tomczak — Zellers was arguing his case that photo identification is demanded for other transactions in society and should be required when voting as well.

"When you go to even a Burger King or a McDonald's and use your debit card, they'll ask you to see your ID so for sure it's you," Zellers said. "Should we have to do that when we vote, something that is one of the most sacred — I think it's a privilege, it's not a right. Everybody doesn't get it because if you go to jail or if you commit some heinous crime your rights are taken away. This is a privilege."


Zellers told the AP he meant to convey the message that voting, while a right, should also be viewed as "a sacred privilege."

"I should have relayed it much better than I did," Zellers said.

He said he's had conversations with people from countries without full voting rights who have questioned whether some Americans take that right for granted.

"But I fully understand the U.S. Constitution, and every American's right, and every Minnesotan's right to vote," Zellers said. "I fully understand that, fully grasp it."

Democrats pounced on the radio show remarks, which were first reported by The Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

"This right to choose our government is the founding principle of America," said Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley. "These comments by Speaker Zellers reveal a lack of seriousness about protecting one of our basic constitutional rights."

Debate over a photo ID requirement for voters is in full swing at Minnesota's Capitol. The Republican-led House and Senate are moving to approve the legislation, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has been chilly toward the proposal.

It's possible the Legislature will put the measure to voters as a proposed constitutional amendment, which Dayton couldn't stop.


Meanwhile, a prominent supporter of the voter ID provision, the conservative watchdog group Minnesota Majority, on Thursday filed affidavits with 70 county attorneys alleging voter fraud by ineligible felon voters in 2010.

Minnesota Majority's president, Jeff Davis, said the group believes 222 ineligible felons voted in 2010. Davis said researchers for the group reached the figure by inspecting court documents. An additional 521 cases they found were inconclusive, he said.

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