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Minnesota’s voter ID amendment: a Trojan horse with a surprise inside

As described in an ACLU memo, the ballot question put to the voter “conveniently fails to mention that the prospective voter’s ID must be government-issued.”

It seems to me what you’re doing is trying to sell your amendment to the voters, to mislead them into believing that this is just about saying who you are on election day, when, in fact, your bill is a Trojan horse to do a lot of other things to disrupt and cause chaos in Minnesota’s election. — State Rep.  Ryan Winkler

This is just voter suppression. They dress it up in a pretty gown and put lipstick on it, but it is voter suppression. — Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota.

Mary TreacyMary Treacy

Sometimes an issue is so overwhelming that we — as individuals and as a society — just can’t grapple with the enormity of what has overtaken us. Most of us want to think that our leaders are ethical, independent thinkers, responsive to the real needs of their constituents and attendant to the pubic good. We don’t expect or read between the lines for hidden agendas. That’s how the Trojan horse of Voter ID got through the virtual gates of the Minnesota Legislature in April.

As usual, a quick overview of constitutional history is useful. At both the federal and the state levels, the trend throughout the nation’s history has been to eliminate barriers to voters’ rights — barriers that included religion, race, sex, illiteracy, poll tax and residency requirements. Energy has been focused on registering voters and getting them to the polls.

Naively uninvolved

In recent times many Minnesotans who care about participatory democracy have naively remained uninvolved as the Legislature joined the well-orchestrated drive to disenfranchise voters, even as the Trojan horse of Voter ID requirement, driven by forces from within and outside the state, proceeded with relentless stealth to passage by a Legislature that didn’t care, didn’t understand, chose to ignore or quietly applauded the long-term goals.

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The proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution may or may not pass in November. That depends greatly on the interest and involvement of groups and individuals who are prescient enough to anticipate what comes next – or who are following what’s happening in Florida right now.

The immediate challenges for voter-rights advocates is to inform those who will cast their vote in November that there is an intended surprise embedded in the proposed amendment. As described in a May 30 memo from ACLU, the ballot question put to the voter “conveniently fails to mention that the prospective voter’s ID must be government-issued.”

Applies to ‘all voters’

Further, ACLU admonishes that prospective voters must understand that “the plain language of the amendment says it will apply to in-person voters, but says nothing so definite about absentee voters. … Nevertheless, the ballot question says it will definitely apply to ‘all voters.’ And in the guise of applying ‘substantially equivalent’ identification and verification procedures to all voters, it may well end Election Day Registration.” 

For the short-term the issues are voter registration and public awareness of the long-term intent and inevitable consequences of passage. Enough for opponents of the Voter ID amendment – and the electorate – to take on for now. Still, there is need to develop strategies to cope with the possibility of passage.

Loathsome as it is, the prudent course for whose who care is to invoke the “Fool me once, shame on you – Feel me twice, shame on me” principle.  As Benjamin Disraeli is reputed to have observed, “I am prepared for the worst but hope for the best.”

Mary Treacy writes about open government, Northeast Minneapolis, and whatever else seems important on her blog, Poking Around with Mary.


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