Confused-Yes! Conquered-Not So Fast! Minnesota Struggle to Untangle Proposed Voter ID Amendment

Samuel Johnson quotes (English Poet, Critic and Writer. 17091784)

One of the most pernicious effects of haste is obscurity

Samuel Johnson

Concerned Minnesotans are struggling untangle the language, much less the issues, that spur the breathless rush to embrace the pernicious Voter ID Amendment.  Neither the media nor mere mortals can predict whether or not eh Amendment will appear, in whatever form, on t he November ballot.   As Steve Sack suggests in a recent Star Tribune political cartoon, the forces that favor the “confuse and conquer” strategy have surely confused and remain intent on conquering.

Advocates pro and con the proposed Voter ID Amendment clashed this week in the sanctum sanctorum of the State Supreme Court.  As the Justices probed the issue per se and the contours of the Voter ID decision before them, they seemed to metaphorically, if not visibly, scratch their wise heads.

What IS the issue  –  and WHY is the present electoral process being rocked by a problematic mandate that addresses an issue that has not been a problem and which, if it were a problem, one that  has been ably managed by the state’s heritage of fair and open election.

Ah, there’s the rub.  Minnesota is  just too wide open.  What some well-coached proponents of the Amendment seek is a process that holds purported imposters at bay while costing the general public a hefty sum to create a burdensome barrier.  The “solution” to the nonexistent problem is pernicious in that closes the voting booth to the unworthy runs the risk that it will bar voters who lack the state issued voter ID that proves they are a member of the legitimate Voters Club.

The concept of a Voters Club has its roots in the infamous Jim Crow laws presumably deep sixed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  That monumental law bears the scars of a mighty struggle in which Americans marched – and died.  Since the 2008 election the right wing has busily planted and nurtured the seeds of public doubt, preparing the ground for a return to a time when states called the shots about voter rights.

Today’s proposed Voter ID proposal is s wolf in sheep’s clothing, slinking stealthily across the states, where laws in ten states now require approved voter ID’s.  Joining the hungry pack, Minnesota’s GOP legislators caught the scent, embraced the patently pernicious proposal, wrapped it in the flag of electoral purity, and rallied the honorable voting public to sign on.

The protracted legislative deliberations split down party lines;  GOP members cried Wolf about voter fraud while DFLers raised questions about ambiguity and evasive answers, e.g. when bill author Representative Mary Kiffmeyer, former Secretary of State, defined the meaning of ‘substantially equivalent” to mean “equivalent substantially.”

It was DFL Governor Dayton who observed early in the game  that “if you want to make big radical changes in election law, it should only be done when there’s very broad agreement and support  — otherwise al you have is lawsuits, bitterness, partisan accusations.”

As the Governor predicted, Minnesota is mired in the Amendment quagmire.  Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has proposed clarification of the ballot language so that voters understand the consequences, e.g. the necessity of a state-issued ID and establishment of a system of “provisional ballot.”  Supporters of minimalist option to put before the voters argue that the Legislature has the sole authority to determine what appears on the ballot.

It remains to the Court to decide if the ballot language is so misleading that the proposed Amendment itself should be dropped from the ballot handed Minnesota voters in November.  The Court has indicated a decision will be reached next month, leaving time for an edited ballot to reach polling sites before the voters show up.

No matter the Court’s decision, if the Amendment does appear on the November ballot, no matter the semantics, and if the voters vote in favor of passage, the issue goes back to the Legislature where the devil in the details will meet his/her/its maker.  And still the “if’s” continue.  Opponents of the Amendment have not precluded further legal action.

No matter the legal outcome, the obscurity wrought by haste will inevitable persist.  Some Minnesotans will still question their neighbor’s right to vote;  others will fear or feel the pain of disenfranchisement.     No matter the outcome, the Voter ID Amendment resolves nothing while it unnecessarily confuses a nervous electorate.


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