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Foes did 'the unthinkable' in stopping the voting amendment

Dan McGrath
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Dan McGrath: "One of the first jobs we had was to convince ourselves we could win this thing."

Voting amendment opponents carved out a solid victory at the polls on Tuesday that would have been nearly unthinkable just months ago.

Advocates of requiring citizens to show a photo ID to vote ended up losing a battle where they were substantially outfunded and outmanned, despite enjoying 80 percent public support for the measure in May 2011.

Now proponents — seemingly invincible for so long — have vowed to return to the Legislature to continue working on election changes like the voting amendment, but it’s unlikely they’ll get far.

Democrats took back both the House and Senate, denying the partisan Republican-backed measure a legislative route.

With only 46 percent support, voters shut down an amendment that once seem inevitable, falling far short of polling expectations and preventing any “mandate” pro-amendment groups like Protect My Vote felt they had leading into election season.

Different party moods

Dan McGrath, who directed Protect My Vote, led a sullen Election Night party at O’Gara’s Bar and Grill in St. Paul. The party emptied of most supporters long before election results had trickled in for either constitutional amendment, and neither of the ballot question’s legislative sponsors showed up for the festivities.

“It looks pretty unlikely that this is going to turn around to a victory for Voter ID this time around, so we’re going to keep pressing forward for improved election integrity in our system,” McGrath told a group of reporters at the party before the amendment had been called.

“We’re going to the Legislature. We’re going to try to find some solutions that Gov. Dayton can sign that will give us greater transparency and integrity in elections.”

But it’s unlikely those two sides will meet in agreement. Dayton vetoed Photo ID legislation in 2011 and symbolically vetoed the constitutional amendment that bypassed his desk in 2012.

On Tuesday, he called the voting amendment — which many opponents saw as a threat to same-day registration and absentee and military voting — “an attempt to hijack the 2014 election by the Republican Party.”

Dayton and other DFL lawmakers, such as Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, addressed a nearly empty room at the beginning of the “vote no” party, but the “no” vote margin remained steady as the crowd swelled. Those lawmakers said a come-from-behind victory would be “Wellstonian” and a true tribute to grass-roots organizing.

By the time Our Vote Our Future, a coalition of more than 80 groups, claimed tentative victory just before 2 a.m. on Wednesday, only a small group of supporters remained.

They credited the unlikely victory to a massive organizing campaign across a broad coalition of organizations, such as progressive organizing heavyweight Take Action Minnesota. Cheers of “This is what democracy looks like!” boomed in a ballroom at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

“When people said we couldn’t, you said, ‘Yes we can!’” Luchelle Stevens, the opposition’s campaign manager, told the cheering crowd. “Against all odds, we did.”

Slow, steady effort

The other Dan McGrath, executive director of Take Action, used to make the leaders of the anti-amendment campaign go around the room and give a reason for why they would prevail in what was initially a largely unpopular fight.

“One of the first jobs we had was to convince ourselves we could win this thing,” McGrath said during an interview in mid-October. “That was really hard, but slowly, steadily things started to work.”

The self-deprecation that teetered on half-optimism he exhibited there wasn’t apparent early Wednesday morning when he took the stage, claimed victory and screamed, “We did it!”

McGrath and his allies weren’t even in a relatively comfortable position until the campaign’s final days. Polling slowly began to validate the opposition groups’ campaign strategy: Talk to as many voters as possible up to Election Day to outline potential problems with the amendment to erode its “soft” support.

“Every single night, every single person who comes in to do a phone bank is changing someone’s mind,” Robyn Skrebes, an organizer with the coalition, said during an October Take Action phone bank. Election Night three weeks later found Skrebes hugging a friend, yelling, “We crushed it!”

While in bill form in 2011, a Star Tribune poll found 80 percent public support for requiring a photo ID at the polls and strong backing among citizens aligned with the Democrats. It appeared to many to be a common-sense issue.

But after the amendment passed the Legislature in 2012, organizers gathered up the groups that opposed the measure in legislative hearings and began campaigning against it as a ballot question committee. They attracted such strong, nonpartisan partners as the AARP and the League of Women Voters.

They questioned how much the voting amendment would cost to implement, estimated how many voters could be affected and inconvenienced and insisted that it could end Election Day registration as we know it. They also relentlessly pushed back against allegations of voter fraud in Minnesota.

By mid-October, the campaign had contacted hundreds of thousands of voters through phone banks and door-knocking. They had staged huge get-out-the-vote efforts and established a ground game of volunteers that worked thousands of shifts contacting prospective voters. They had raised more than $2.5 million in cash and in-kind donations and partnered with former Vice President Walter Mondale and former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson.

Support for the amendment began to ebb. In June, a report from Public Policy Polling showed the voting amendment with a 24-point lead. It had dropped to 17 points by September and slumped again in October. Two days before Election Day, the amendment was considered a dead heat.

“We needed to play near flawlessly to compete, and I think we did,” McGrath said after the victory. “I think, you know, the other side thought they had this in the bag with an 80 percent hold. They didn’t.”

McGrath of Protect My Vote said there were few partners to be had early in the process and said that it would have been impossible to woo labor unions and progressive organizers already working with the anti-amendment forces.

The pro-amendment forces, which consisted of about eight full time staffers plus volunteers, didn’t wage a grassroots campaign, McGrath said. Instead, they focused on media messaging designed to counteract their opponents’ “smear campaign.”

Lack of funding was the biggest reason the campaign failed, he said.

Roughly $1.3 million dollars of the group’s $1.5 million campaign chest came from Joan Cummins, wife of conservative donor Bob Cummins. Much of it flooded in less than a month before Election Day. 

“We got outspent in a huge way,” McGrath said.

McGrath also criticized donors who refused to contribute to the cause because they thought the amendment would inevitably pass.

“I really appreciate what the Cummins have done for the campaign, because, as I said, a lot of the other people that we attempted to call on for donations just said, ‘Eh, no big deal, it’s going to pass, we don’t need to spend any money on it,’” he said. “Maybe next time around these donors that decided to sit on their hands will realize, ‘Yeah, it is important.’ Even if you’ve got strong support going in, you’ve still got to defend that support.”

But another constitutional amendment campaign isn’t likely, at least, according to McGrath. He reaffirmed that working with the Legislature and the governor are on the agenda for session 2013.

Looking to other efforts

But with Dayton as governor and DFL majorities in the Legislature, McGrath conceded that a strict photo ID requirement like the one described in the failed constitutional amendment isn’t likely to pass.

“To my mind, it’s the first time that I know of that voter ID’s been put to the voters and defeated,” said Doug Chapin, an elections expert at the University of Minnesota.

Still, McGrath said it’s critical to work with lawmakers to pass many of the same reforms included in the amendment to ensure that voters are treated equally and to prevent fraud.

“There was going to be a bill for election reform with or without the amendment,” he said. “We’re going to go forward with pressing for greater integrity and transparency in the system.”

The bill McGrath referred to is known as “enabling legislation,” which would have needed the governor’s approval to fully implement the amendment. Without that agreement, a long legal battle could have been required to define the amendment’s specific provisions.

The measure already faced two state Supreme Court lawsuits over the summer.

Republican Mary Kiffmeyer, the amendment’s chief House author who was elected to the state Senate on Tuesday, said she plans to work with Democrats to push for a “Photo ID statutory bill that we can move forward on and agree to.”

Kiffmeyer said if Dayton is true to his word to “send it back to the Legislature and fix it,” then there should be common ground to resolve differences that separate the parties on the ID issue.

 She said the legislative process could work out those differences, but stressed that election mechanisms like vouching and ID-free voting are out of touch with many Minnesotans. She also reaffirmed that she wouldn’t stray from her core principles while working to find a compromise with the governor.

“Why would I be hypocritical and now abandon the things I talked so strongly about before?” she said. “Wouldn’t it be silly of me to do that?”

Chapin said even without a “pro-ID majority” in the Legislature, there are plenty of bipartisan mechanisms for improving elections. About a dozen states have implemented online voter registration, he said, and others have allowed data sharing that transfers voting eligibility as people move.

"I would hope that rather than continue to fight … that this would be an opportunity for the parties to think a little bit bigger.”

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Comments (40)

The only thing they need to do . . . .

is re-visit the idea of enabling access between the voters database and the felons database given the fact that the only thing even remotely resembling proven "voter fraud" was voting by ineligible felons. This is the legislation that was passed and then vetoed by Pawlenty. Let's try it again.

And considering that the provisions of the ill-fated "Voter ID amendment" wouldn't have even addresed this issue, anyway, getting this legislation passed should (hopefully) put the specter of any future attempts to mess up Minnesota's exemplary electoral system to rest for good.

Don't expect much McGrath

This was never about election integrity, it was always about politicizing the election process and tilting it in favor of Republicans, that agenda will now go nowhere. Since you can't expect these guys to continue to pursue and agenda they never had, we will see nothing.

If the DFL is smart, what they will now do is pass the electronic voter roll legislation plan and re-pass motor voter. This will dramatically improve the efficiency of our election system and virtually eliminate all voter fraud in MN (as small as that problem may be). This would render any future voter ID arguments permanently unviable.

Kiffmeyer wants a solution? Here's one.

Re-submit the bill that Tim Pawlenty vetoed which would have required that Minnesota notify felons when their civil rights have been restored. If voter fraud happens because felons erroneously believe they are eligible to vote, this bill would take care of the problem.

I thought it

I always said this was defeatable. Regardless of the polls this was a Trojan Horse inside a bait-n-switch that was entirely based on lies and deceptions. All we had to do was expose this for what it really was. People don't like having their voting rights messed with and I always figured if we could just get the word out it would collapse.

The only question was "could we get the word out?" What happened was a huge coalition of groups and powerful individuals mobilized and got the word out. The more people looked behind the curtain the more they realized this thing was a dog. I hope the Democrats have learned from this experience because the party "realists" were ready to walk away from this based on the original poll numbers. Same with the marriage amendment. What we've proven here is that minds CAN be changed, arguments can be made and won, even against great odds.

Grassroots

This is entirely correct. The DFL _did_ walk away from it. They had better take notice of what can be accomplished with solid organizing and dedicated leaders. The DFL has let its organizing muscles atrophy. They'd better start exercising them again.

Incorrect

The DFL was responsible for the majority of IDs and conversations on the Voter Restriction Amendment. I know for a fact that the DFL Coordinated Campaign was IDing and persuading on this issue from day 1 all across the state.

Todd

I didn't see the DFL get involved until very late in the game, and then it was pretty much limited to e-mails and one debate. Unless you Arne Carlson is in the DFL now? In fact to begin with the DFL was thinking about sitting this out because they didn't want to appose what they thought was going to be a popular initiative. If you could give some examples or explain you statement that would be nice.

I'm not trying to sow seed of division here, I'm just saying this was yet another example of how the major party followed instead of lead a popular initiative in defense of civil rights. I expect more from the DFL in the future. This is just another in a long list of examples where progressives have led the DFL to a liberal victory. The DFL did not pick the current Governor. The DFL wouldn't have picked Al Franken. etc. etc.

Organizing

I'm talking about the on the ground field operation. Every single phonebank and doorknock ran by the DFL Coordinated Campaign from day 1 included IDing and persuading on the Voter ID amendment. I'm sorry if field flies under the radar, but for months the DFL was the largest ground game against the Voter ID amendment. The DFL also in-kinded staff to Our Vote Our Future in addition to the work being done on the ground.

It's simply wrong to attribute all this to the DFL

First, I've never even heard of IDing. Second, our vote our future was not a DFL creation and it's simply wrong to imply that it was. The DFL wasn't even a member of the coalition, it merely issued a statement in support of the coalition. You can see this for yourself at the following website, just look at the long list of coalition members- no DFL. It was THAT coalition that created and ran the ground field operation, not the DFL. Were there members of the DFL involved, sure, but they just some of many.

Here's the link to Our Vote Our Future's list of coalition members and leaders: http://www.ourvoteourfuture.org/about-the-campaign/

Correct.

Paul has the correct information here. I never heard a thing about a DFL-led phone bank or ground game. Our Vote Our Future ran and won this campaign, there is no doubt. Ordinary Minnesotans won this campaign, not political insiders. There is no doubt. That is in fact _why_ we won.

I'm not trying to sew dissent either but those of us who actually LED this do, in fact, want to be recognized for the work we put in.

Coalition Members

And not even the list of members at Our Vote Our Future completely covers all of the organizations involved. His Works United did a bunch of phone calling, for example.

This was much larger than the DFL. It had to be to win.

Didn't win, but helped

I'm not saying the DFL gets the credit for defeating this amendment, but what I am saying is that it was not an absent partner. As a DFL volunteer, I can tell you that I was instructed to ID and persuade on the Voter ID amendment.

"IDing" means "identifying" support/opposition, and then persuading after that. None of the DFL phone banks or doorknocks were only about this amendment, but it was included along with the work for DFL candidates. Every doorknock and phonebank I went to for the DFL had both amendments included in what we were talking about. And from what I've been told, all of this data was given directly to Our Vote Our Future.

Thanks for clarifying Todd

I see what you're saying.

This thing lost all over, which tells me seniors voted no big.

Look at the map on the results. Unlike the marriage amendment, which won in only 11 of Minnesota's counties with large populations or colleges, this thing lost all over the place. I think seniors saw themselves in a few years having to haggle with some clerk somewhere trying to legitimize their existence so they can go vote.

And it should have lost. It was probably the worst written constitutional amendment in the history of mankind. It said one thing on the ballot, another thing in law, and then it leaves the actual implementation to legislators who aren't even elected yet.

I think people saw this for what it really was - a poorly crafted, thinly veiled attempt to keep students, seniors and people of color from voting.

I think this amendment, more so than any other single thing, stands out as the classic uselessness of the legislature over the past two years. They talked about jobs, did nothing about them and then spent their time pandering to the lowest common denominator of their narrow-minded base.

Worst. Legislature. Ever.

Exactly

The correct analysis

Agreed

Outstanding analysis by Jeremy Powers.

Low information projection.

Mr. Powers wrote:

"They talked about jobs, did nothing about them and then spent their time pandering to the lowest common denominator of their narrow-minded base."

I see the new civility policy is working.

Proposed amendment sponsors

“We’re going to go forward with pressing for greater integrity and transparency in the system.”

Mr. McGrath, your entire effort lacked integrity. You were never honest enough to confess there is virtually no problem to solve here, nor to confess your real intention - to disenfranchise certain voters, to your perceived benefit. Look in the mirror - transparency starts at home.

so confusing.

tsk. All these Dan McGraths. So confusing. Can we start using middle initials? nicknames? superimpose organizational logos on their foreheads?

Rejection of Kiffmeyer

There were many satisfactions Tuesday night. Among them is the rejection of essentially the entire career of Mary Kiffmeyer. She has spent most of her time in state government trying to make it harder to vote. And what does she have to show for it? Absolutely nothing.

Susan;

No, no we cannot. They have the same middle initial! And other stranger-than-fiction coincidences, according to one of the funnest stories I reported this year: http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2012/03/two-sides-two-dan-mcgrat...

oy.

you have a hard job, Beth. I think we'll just have to stick with #1 and #2. or Dan left and Dan right.

Or . . . .

Dan left and Dan wrong.

(Okay. I'll go sit in the corner now.)

At least with a DFL majority

At least with a DFL majority in the next Legislature, we won't have knee-jerk ALEC bills proposed, like the voter-restriction amendment that largely echoed what's been passed elsewhere, with the same origins. Nic, that Minnesota actually beat back the big money on this!

Perhaps the best news of the night

Right wins out over (perceived) might. The "Vote No" campaign did a fabulous job. They were aided by a lackluster campaign from the other side and facts. It helped that almost anyone without an R behind their name called this out as bad, improper legislation including 65 Minnesota newspapers. As Jeremy said, this proposal has been partisan from the start. A poorly crafted piece of legislation that NEVER should be considered to be put in the constitution.

Mark Ritchie had mentioned "Photo Books" as a better, cheaper alternative. That, combined with felon notification legislation, should be the way to go to improve what is already a very good system. Any change to the election system must make sure that voting is not made more difficult or that it disenfranchises anyone who should be qualified to vote.

To me, the sting of losing two recounts, has contributed to the enthusiasm for Voter ID for the Republican partisans. That they had a perfect forum to show that there was fraud (Coleman's court case) and showed none shows me that there really is no need to perform drastic surgery on our voting system in this state.

About the predictions

I'm actually puzzled by the surprise here. Both of the polls in the last days of the election showed support for both amendments several point below 50% and it was estimated that 2% - 4% of the ballots would be left blank equaling a "no" vote. This meant that both amendments were facing an uphill battle at that point but most news media didn't seem to get that. All night the "no" votes were above 50% even without the blank ballots so it was pretty clear mathematically that these dogs couldn't pass. I got the impression that a lot of the media just didn't understand the math behind this.

Numbers

Actually for a very short time Photo ID was at 51% support and marriage amendment was at 53% on the Secretary of State's web site. This was after almost all precincts around the state had reported but Minneapolis and Duluth were still completely out. Over the next hour, support started plummeting as the precinct reports came in.

I believe that these amendments backfired badly for Republicans. Certainly the marriage amendment was there to drive turnout and drive it it did. I voted at the Wedge VFW and if anything turnout was HIGHER than in 2008. Tons and tons of young people everywhere. I'm just shy of forty but I felt like an old man standing in line. It was wonderful!

I think part of the surprise

I think part of the surprise is that many of these marriage amendments have gained greater support across the country than the polling would suggest.

Last night was the first time in an election anywhere in which gay marriage was not defeated. And it happened four times!

part of it was the fact that

part of it was the fact that historically, polls have under reported opposition to same sex marriage. That gap has been falling, but until last night, has always been present. Even in California.

predictions

Interesting point. But, like you said, those polls were in the last day(s) before the election. Some polling on Friday suggested the anti-amendment side was right on the cusp of victory, but the pro-amendment camp quickly dismissed the results. Really, though, the main concern was -- considering all the factors, including the incredible dip just before the election and the voting amendment's previously sky-high support -- what if the new polls were just plain wrong?

Polls

A lot of us making phone calls knew we were having a significant impact at least a month before the election, if not earlier. The tone of the calls and conversations changed markedly over time. At first people didn't want to talk about it or were convinced fraud was rampant. But over time people began to talk to their neighbors and we got a multiplicative effect. It wasn't just phone callers changing minds. It was people who had been called going out and talking to friends and family.

The only question we had was whether there was enough time to capitalize on the momentum. Apparently, there was. :)

The LWV role outstate

The League of Women Voters should get a lot of credit for all their work this past year in out state MN especially. They sat in on legislative hearings on the issue, studied the other states passage of voter ID laws, followed challenges and court cases, and understood the ramifications, should this pass. They went to every county that would host them and held community meetings. They tirelessly answered questions, promising to help voters get ID should that be necessary. They passed the hat among themselves so that the little ladies in white hair and sensible shoes could educate voters on what this entailed. Hence the high rejection out state. I think that as voters heard about all the last minute court challenges and halting of provisions for this election also helped people see how complicated this really was going to be.

Knowing that people poll 'politically correct' I didn't assume these amendments would fail until the numbers came in.

LWV

Yes, the LWV deserves tons of credit. So do many, many other organizations. This was a collective effort which is why it was so very satisfactory to be a part of it. Each organization played their role and played it to perfection. Each group talked to its constituency through its most powerful lens. It was an absolutely brilliant campaign, one that should be studied for decades in political science courses.

Voting by Felons

The issue with felons voting (which I believe has been overblown) is a result of someone voting who has been released from prison but is still on probation. When they are no longer incarcerated, why not restore their right to vote? Voting helps make people feel they have a stake in society and would help integrate them back into their communities. It also removes any doubt about an individual's voting status. Not allowing a person on probation to vote serves no useful purpose.

Felons

Some states allow incarcerated citizens to vote. I believe that is by far the best option. An offender is much less likely to repeat if he or she still feels a part of and participates in society. Suspending our most basic right only serves to disconnect the very people we need to be most connected.

vote by mail

I haven't had time to read all the comments, but what about voting by mail? Both my sister and her husband in Oregon and my mother in Colorado voted several weeks ago by mail. No standing in lines, no standing in the rain, no worries about whether the voting machines are working or there is electricity for them. I really think it's time that Minnesota looked at what's already going on it other states.

We're better than Oregon

Oregon shmoregon. What I don't understand is why Oregon isn't the first state to produce election result? In theory they should be able to start counting first thing election day morning because they have no polls and don't have to wait for them to close? Aside from Florida they were the LAST state in the 48 to report they're vote total, what's up with that?

vote by mail explanation

I just spoke to my sister and people are able to vote right up until the "polls" close at 8:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time (10:00 PM here).

There are both "ballot boxes", similar to mail boxes, where ballots may be placed up until 8:00 PM (PDT). Also, people are allowed to turn their ballots in at election headquarters in each community and county also until 8:00 PM.

Now, she's not sure when they start counting the ballots, if it's that morning or if they wait until all the ballots are in and start counting after 8:00 PM

I don't know how early or late California or Washington state's ballot counting went, but I'm sure some of the "lateness" factor is that they are 2 hours behind us and 3 hours behind the east coast.

Hope that answers your question.

Turnout

Minnesotans like to show up at the polls. We had the highest turnout in the country, as we have had for the past 8 elections. So I'm not sure vote by mail is necessary here. Oregon, by the way, was #6 in turnout. It would be nice to have real early voting. Currently, early voting is actually voting in-person by absentee ballot. The lines for in-person absentee voting were fairly long in Ramsey County.

Oregon shmoregon

So even though they have nothing but mail in ballots, they STILL have to have polling places with boxes on election day? Man what a bunch of losers. (kidding of course). I've got some friends in Oregon that I'm always teasing about this. They brag about their system and I respond...