Tag Archives: Voter Rights-Minnesota

Voting Procedures Still on the Public Agenda at State and National Levels

Voter registration, an issue that some had optimistically assumed was resolved two decades ago by the  National Voter Registration Act  has emerged – no, erupted – as a major issue, a mighty weapon wielded by forces that are only too well aware that the place to stifle the democratic process is the voting booth.  Tinkering with the electoral process has taken various forms shaped to the vulnerability of the venue.   In Minnesota, the pressure point was the Voter ID Amendment to the State Constitution.  Originally portrayed as a benign detail the pernicious proposal was soundly trounced by the electorate in the last election.

An unintended consequence of that ill-fated rush to exclude has awakened Minnesotans to the importance of voters’ rights and inspired elected officials scrutinize the details with unaccustomed care.

The first legislative measures to take stage center are related proposals to allow early voting and to eliminate a requirement that people have a valid excuse to vote by absentee ballot.   Thirty two states offer some form of early voting in which there is no requirement for a valid excuse.  In some cases the votes are counted immediately; in others votes are not tabulated until election day and voters have a chance to change their vote. Many Minnesotans consider early voting a non-issue since they have assumed that Minnesota has had early voting in place all along.

The proposal now before the state Legislature would allow Minnesota voters to vote up to 15 days before an election.  On-site registration would still be available following the same requirements as are currently in place for Election Day registration.  While opponents fear easy early voting gives too much power to parties and voter fraud, proponents of absentee voting argue that it is more convenient for voters and that it would shorten the lines on Election Day.  Governor Dayton has not weighed in except to be very clear about the fact that any decision will have to have bipartisan support.

With heightened awareness of the import of the electoral process per se, Minnesotans may be interested to learn more about what is happening in other states and at the national level.  The Brennan Center for Justice which has long studied voting practices recently produced a major proposal to “modernize voter registration and bring America’s election system into the 21st Century.”  The plan, known as the Voter Registration Modernization (VRM), is the centerpiece of the Voter Empowerment Act introduced last month by a raft of legislators and prominently mentioned in the President’s State of the Union Address.

Those who hatched their nefarious plans to skew the American electoral process by tinkering with the “details” may find that shining light on those details has illuminated the gaps in a system that is now enjoying unprecedented attention.

Minnesotans out-voted every state in the nation in the last election.  We captured the national headlines with defeat of the Voter ID Amendment, once on its way to easy passage.  We have reason to be proud of our record.  We have a concomitant responsibility to follow what is happening in the State Legislature and in Congress.  We know from experience what it takes to keep a collective eye on the electoral process — constant vigilance is the price of liberty.

Minnesota’s Voter ID Amendment – The Trojan Horse Has Left the Gate

Minnesotans are accustomed to a fair and honest election process that encourages citizens to vote.  Under the direction of the Secretary of State, the election supported by a host of advocacy groups ranging from the venerable League of Women Voters and vigorous political parties to groups representing newly-enfranchised high school and college students and immigrants who hail from elsewhere but now call Minnesota home, citizens with physical or language barriers, those who are homeless, homebound, elderly, impoverished or who live outside the social or political loop.

The right to participate in this open process that most Minnesotans enjoy – and in which too few participate – is hard won by state officials, advocacy groups, the faith community, school groups and promoters of lifelong voting have long taken pride in the participatory process which they have collectively wrought.

Like the people of Troy, we sleep in the smug confidence that we are at peace.  With alarm, we are slowly waking to the harsh reality that, as State Representative Ryan Winkler metaphorically warns, the Trojan Horse is at the gate.

At this writing, the challenge is to hold the Trojan Horse at bay.  Advocacy groups are challenging the action of the IR Legislature to put the Voter ID Amendment on the November ballot.  This week the challenge has moved to the Supreme Court which has no option but to take it on.  Many hold out hope that the Amendment will not make it to the ballot.

And so we slumber on

Meanwhile, Amendment supporters push on with their impassioned case for passage.  The Voter ID Amendment, they maintain, will prevent the unfit – immigrants, felons, the homeless, elderly Minnesotans who have never had an ID, and those who don’t deserve the privilege anyway – to step aside and make way for Real Minnesotans, i.e. those who have a valid state issued ID.

Some of those who proposed and many of the legislators who bought their misinformed stories of malfeasance, may think they are doing what’s best for Minnesotans – though they  may have experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance as proponent Dan McGrath advised a Moral Majority audience that the “Voter ID is something that the polls show people want.  [Opponents] are afraid of the will of the people.  They’re afraid to let people vote.”

Intrepid opponents of the Voter ID Amendment will heed the ancient admonition: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. (Though the aphorism may be politically incorrect in these troubled times, it works here as the mythological metaphor.)

From the perspective of opponents, the Voter ID ruckus offers a “teachable moment”, a time when people on both sides of the issue recognize that this sound and fury must signify something.  Voter promotion efforts – get-out-the-vote and voter registration – present untapped opportunities to inform and educate citizens about the struggle for voting rights, the challenges and the ways in which the state-issued Voter ID is a potential threat to citizens’ exercise of their rights.  Some possibilities to ponder:

  • Recognize upfront that prior censorship is a powerful restraint on nonprofit organizations, the media, even the business community.  Encourage and facilitate their inclusion of nonpartisan discussions of the election process and citizen rights on their programs and in their print and digital publications.  Political discourse need not be partisan.
  • Identify and work with individuals and organizations that reach those who may be disenfranchised by the Amendment – houses of worship, colleges, senior citizen centers, the disabled community, labor unions, youth groups, outreach efforts to felons who have paid their debt, the homeless who cannot obtain a state-issued ID  – not to mention immigrant communities in desperate need of affirmative action.  Ethnic groups that share an interest gather often and everywhere – leaders need programs that meet their constituents’ needs.  Carpe diem!
  • Monitor what’s happening in the courts, starting with oral arguments now set for July 17.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has asked the state to deal with the imponderable – to change or to quash the proposed Amendment.  Circle July 17 on the calendar.
  • Pressure the media to face the tide of misinformation with solid investigative reporting and nonpartisan, unbiased coverage of voter validation and other issues related to the electoral process.  Contribute corrections and alternative views via the editorial page.
  • Explain in concrete terms that the teams of Trojan Horses are at states throughout the nation.  Florida is – and has been –a bellwether.
  • Stress the high cost of Voter ID implementation – costs that not only preclude those who cannot afford the personal burden but which impose a heavy burden on the general public.
  • Factor in the complexity of barriers to obtaining a state-issued ID –e.g. the need for rides to the polls, dependence on public transit, or reliance on scheduled transit for homebound or institutionalized individuals, language differences, work schedules, child care, physical challenges…The list goes on – talk with those who know the territory.
  • Share the resources within reach.  Start with the Office of the Secretary of State, a position currently held by Mark Ritchie, a voter advocate at heart and the individual ultimately responsible for implementing the process determined by the Legislature. Check out other resources including, but not limited to, Common Cause, ACLU of Minnesota, the Federal Elections Legal Network,  League of Women Voters of Minnesota and Jewish Community Action.
  • Tell the concerned to check out more proximate resources including the rich menu of programs and publications related to voter rights and sources of information and assistance.
  • Get creative – here the prize may go to MPIRG, the student activist group at the U of M that has proposed two incentives to student voters – that students get an excused absence to vote OR that the University declare Election Day a free day at the University.
  • If, in spite of the erstwhile efforts of concerned Minnesotans, the Voter ID amendment should get the voters’ nod, maintain the pace!   There is cold comfort in the reality that the devil is in the details, details to be crafted by the Legislature in the year to come. It’s not over till the last legislator signs – Keep up the pressure to defend the rights of every Minnesota citizen.