Minnesota Election Law Ballot Measure – So Much More than Just Voter ID

July 11, 2012

This week, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie announced the title of the ballot measure addressing election administration for the November election. The new title of the measure is:

CHANGES TO IN-PERSON & ABSENTEE VOTING & VOTER REGISTRATION; PROVISIONAL BALLOTS

Some proponents of the measure have cried foul, arguing this title is misleading. In fact, it is painfully accurate. Many voting rights advocates, including this blogger, have been loosely referring to the measure as the “Voter ID Amendment.”  But the proposed amendment is much broader than simply drastically increasing the ID requirements for voters. This amendment goes further by limiting how registered voters are verified, impacting more than in-person voting on Election Day. It will undermine the long tradition of Election Day registration that many believe accounts for Minnesota’s consistently high voter turnout rates. Beyond that, it will affect how voters confined to their homes can vote and will necessitate the creation of a cumbersome and costly provisional balloting system. 

Minnesota has a strong history of civic engagement. If the proposed amendment were merely a strict voter ID restriction — like the amendment passed in Mississippi and similar to the laws passed in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee — then the debate could be limited to whether it is reasonable to limit voters to a short list of IDs that could exclude thousands of Minnesota citizens. But the conversation about this proposed constitutional amendment must be larger than that narrow issue. The debate must include whether Minnesotans want to see the disabled and elderly potentially barred from voting, and if they want to permanently change voter registration rules that have been in place since the state first required voter registration in 1973. 

Changes to the state constitution are permanent. These changes cannot be reversed when the true impact of these laws on voters and on the budget are discovered. The solution proposed by proponents of the ballot measure changes the Minnesota constitution. No future legislature or court will be able to modify or change the rules. Future elected and judicial officials will not be able to respond to the needs of Minnesota’s citizens to ensure all residents have full and fair access to the polls.  

Moreover, Minnesota’s culture of high civic engagement reaches beyond elections but starts at the polls. Minnesotans donate to the causes that move their conscience and work to engage their elected officials. So much of what defines Minnesota and lays the groundwork for high civic engagement is undermined by the mandates contained within this ballot measure. Understanding how changes to voting and poll access affect democratic participation is essential to effective election administration. As corporate interests increase their role in elections and governance, the voice of the individual is most important and most clearly heard though the power of the vote. Now is not the time to mute the voices of individual citizens at the ballot box.