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How Minnesota’s Voter ID Amendment Was Defeated

Minnesota voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have required voters to present a photo ID in order to vote. This was the latest in a string of victories for voting rights, and the final verdict was squarely in the hands of voters.

  • Amanda Melillo
November 9, 2012

On Tues­day, Minnesota voters defeated a ballot initi­at­ive that would have amended the state consti­tu­tion to require voters to present a photo ID at the polls in order to be able to vote. This was the latest in a string of push­back victor­ies for voting rights, and the final verdict was squarely in the hands of voters. 

As recently as five months ago, the amend­ment appeared posi­tioned for easy passage. Public Policy Polling’s first survey in June asking voters if they suppor­ted or opposed a consti­tu­tional amend­ment requir­ing voter ID, 58 percent suppor­ted the amend­ment and only 34 percent opposed it.

When asked again in Septem­ber, support for the amend­ment had only eroded by two percent, while the numbers stand­ing in oppos­i­tion were begin­ning to grow — to 39 percent in Septem­ber, and then to 43 percent in Octo­ber. While the gap was narrow­ing, it appeared passage was still immin­ent.

But the poll results released just days before the elec­tion showed a complete reversal.

Fifty-one percent of voters opposed the amend­ment, with only 46 percent still in favor of it. This was strik­ingly close to the final elec­tion result, which left the amend­ment defeated at a tally of 52 percent to 46 percent.

So what happened to this amend­ment that was supposed to be a slam dunk?

At first glance, requir­ing photo ID to vote seems like a no-brainer, as it did to 80 percent of people surveyed in a 2011 Minneapolis Star Tribune poll. This is because the major­ity of voters have photo ID, as do most of the people that they know who go to vote.

But voting rights advoc­ates launched a tire­less campaign to educate the public about how the proposed consti­tu­tional amend­ment would make it harder for Minnesota’s seni­ors and veter­ans to vote, end Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion, and force more people to vote on provi­sional ballots that might not be coun­ted.

For example, Iraq War veteran Alex Erick­son’s milit­ary ID would not count under the proposed amend­ment. For 91-year-old Christine Smith and other senior citizens, gath­er­ing the required docu­ment­a­tion and stand­ing in line was no easy option. Voters of all stripes know that it’s wrong for the politi­cians who put this amend­ment on the ballot to try to manip­u­late laws and prevent some people from voting.

Oppos­i­tion to the amend­ment increased across nearly every major group tested. Demo­crats moved nearly 30 points against the amend­ment between June and Novem­ber, from 54 percent opposed to 82 percent opposed. Inde­pend­ents showed a simil­arly large shift. While they mirrored initial poll results in June, with 58 percent in favor of the photo ID require­ment and 35 percent opposed, by Novem­ber they were evenly divided. Even Repub­lic­ans, who were over­whelm­ingly in favor of the amend­ment, shif­ted a few points in oppos­i­tion.

Oppos­i­tion increased by double-digit margins among liber­als, moder­ates, and even some­what conser­vat­ive voters, with only the most conser­vat­ive voters remain­ing resol­ute. Both men and women had double digit gains as well, along with every age group — with oppos­i­tion both increas­ing more and ending at a higher point with voters aged 45 and older.

Protect­ing the integ­rity of our elec­tions is import­ant to every­one. But too often, it is treated as a zero-sum tradeoff — we can either make sure that every eligible person is able to vote, or we can prevent fraud. But when voters under­stand that passing these kinds of restrict­ive laws means making it harder for some to vote, their answer is clear. Voting is the most funda­mental right of any demo­cracy, and this is what makes us all equal. Through their votes, Minnesotans have made sure that the voice of every eligible voter in their state will be heard next Elec­tion Day.