Free and fair elections. They are the hallmark of American government.

Free and fair elections. They are the hallmark of American government.

But this November voters will be asked to decide on a state constitutional amendment that could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters. It is a vote that could have a serious impact on the ease of voting for thousands of residents of rural Minnesota.

The ballot question reads like this:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification on Election Day and that the state provide free identification to eligible voters?"

Seems pretty straightforward and simple. It seems like a very legitimate proposal. But it is far from that when you begin to dig into the details of its impact.

Unable to get Gov. Mark Dayton to sign a bill requiring the photo ID, the Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate, copying efforts by Republicans around the country, bypassed the governor and went for a constitutional amendment. The governor can't prevent an amendment from being put before voters by his veto.

The reason for the amendment in the minds of Republicans is the threat of voter fraud undermining the legitimacy of an election. To support their argument they point to felons being able to go to the polls and cast a ballot. Felons lose their right to vote when convicted.

Conservative organization Minnesota Majority has been leading a battle to get the voter ID law passed and has been putting up billboards saying Minnesota is number one in voter fraud cases. Sounds ominous.

But just how serious a problem is voter fraud that we are number one among the 50 states and must take immediate action on a state constitutional amendment to save our election process? In the 2008 election, over 2.9 million Minnesotans went to the polls. The cases of voter fraud, including felons voting, are fewer than 160. That comes to one out of every 18,125 votes cast.

By some estimates, however, to prevent 160 people from casting fraudulent ballots we will also prevent 100,000 or more legitimate Minnesota citizens and voters from casting a ballot.

Minnesota currently allows same day registration. You walk into the polling place, show a form of identification that indicates you live in the precinct, and you are allowed to vote. Your identification can be any legitimate photo ID you have. However, if you don't have a photo ID, you can still vote.

Minnesota currently allows a citizen to vouch for another person, in a sense testifying to election judges that the person is exactly who he says he is. To lie about it is a felony. Vouching will no longer be legal if the amendment passes. So if you wanted to take your elderly father to the polls to vote, but he no longer drives and doesn't have a current photo ID, you couldn't vouch for him and he couldn't vote – even if he had lived in the precinct for 50 years and had been casting ballots since he was old enough to vote.

It is also going to be a very expensive law to enforce. Estimates are that it will cost between $23 and $29 million with the vast majority of that expense falling on local governments.

The amendment does say that the state will provide a free photo ID to people who need one, but it is known that many people who vote won't get one in time to cast a ballot. Some will forget, some won't take the initiative, some will have recently moved to the state, and some don't have an easy means of getting out to get the ID. Others may assume the photo ID they have will work, but a valid ID might not include a student ID. It might not include a work ID badge. These are all citizens who currently have the right to vote.

In the 2008 election, 500,000 citizens registered on the day of the election.

If this amendment passes, those who don't have a legitimate photo ID will be able to cast a provisional ballot. The ballot will be set aside and won't be counted until the person brings in the approved photo ID. That means their ballots won't be counted on Election Day. Many, it is known, won't bother to come back. Their ballots won't count at all.

Who will be disenfranchised by this amendment? It is widely known that most who will lose their right to vote through this amendment will be the elderly, the poor, the young, and minorities. It just so happens these groups all tend to vote for Democrats. Who pushed this amendment through? Republicans.

"It's designed to make it harder for senior citizens, for our military serving overseas, for students and for others…" to vote former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale said. "The law is so vague we're not sure who else will be picked up in the net. It's designed to discourage them from effectively voting. I hope we'll turn this down."

Former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson is also against the amendment. "This is one of the larger unfunded mandates that we've seen," he said. "It imposes millions and millions of dollars across our local governments and doesn't provide a penny to pay for it, to say nothing of the million on the state side to pay for these magnificent ID cards."

Voter fraud is extremely rare, yet we are being asked to prevent tens of thousands of legitimate citizens from voting. This would be an atrocity to our electoral process.