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Voter ID amendment runs contrary to American history and constitutional traditions

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This proposed amendment runs contrary to the way our Constitution was ratified, to the changes it sparked regarding voter rights, and to the 225-year history of voter enhancing enfranchisement in our nation.

Politics is always full of contradictions, and hypocrisy, but a significant example now in play is the proposed voter ID amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution. Adding to this is the irony that many of those who favor this amendment are adamant about their fidelity to our U.S. Constitution and historic values regarding elections.

Well, actually this proposed amendment runs contrary to the way our Constitution was ratified, to the changes it sparked regarding voter rights, and to the 225 year history of voter enhancing enfranchisement in our nation.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, and subsequent ratification of the Constitution, the American electorate was modeled after most European nations – dominated by monarchs and with enfranchisement to vote highly restricted and limited to wealthy males, often connected to royalty.  Thus, at birth, we too were far from a “democratic” nation. The process of ratifying our Constitution changed that and stimulated a powerful desire for voter reform. Indeed, that was an essential element of what the Revolutionary War was about.

Consequently, when it came to ratifying the Constitution in the period of 1787-1790 (when it was finally adopted), it was at that point in history the greatest, broadest, most unrestricted voter plebiscite in the history of mankind. It was the first time that the people of a nation freely determined their form of government. Not trusting the (13) state legislatures to ratify, special state constitutional conventions were established specifically to debate the charter and consummate the process. And in electing those representatives, legacy voting laws were significantly broadened. While it was true that both women and slaves were excluded (more about that later), the requirements for property ownership and other restrictions were modified and lessened. As Ben Franklin stated so succinctly in breaking down property-ownership requirements:

“Today a man owns a jackass worth 50 dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the mean time has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is therefore better qualified to make a proper selection of rulers — but the jackass is dead and the man cannot vote. Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?”

Of greater importance is the fact that the changes in voter qualifications, though only incremental in the constitutional ratification, later led to the acceptance and inertia for added reform. The struggle for ratification was not easy, and involved sophisticated arguments about politics and constitutional theory, thus creating a better informed electorate. It was also the first national political controversy in American history; the people of all 13 states for the first time debated and decided the same issue and foretold of both future such debates (as we now have with the voter ID amendment) — and specifically the issue of broadening our voter mandate.

And broaden we did. Throughout the years restrictions diminished, and in 1920, with the adoption of the 19th Amendment women were given the right to vote.  Next, in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 we outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities and women — as well as unequal application of voter-registration requirements. Prior to these voter ID amendments, there were rarely movements in our history to create more restrictions (the offensive Jim Crow laws an exception); the long-term thrust has always been to be more inclusive.

The point of all this is simply: If you respect and cherish our Constitution, you should recall that one of the major benefits it conferred on our country was the expansion of voter enfranchisement. Restrictions were not added, they were significantly reduced to encourage participation. Moreover, in the election of the state constitutional conventions the concept of greater participation was not only desired, it was critical if we were to become the nation envisioned by our Founding Fathers (regardless of how such a vote may have turned out for or against ratification): a nation by and for the people, and broadly approved.

Beyond that, if you cherish American history, recall that it has been a continuum of inclusion, greater voting rights, expanding the franchise, and encouraging wider participation.  The voter ID amendment now being considered runs contrary to all that history. On Nov. 6, we will all have a chance to decide on which side of history we want to be.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.


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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/15/2012 - 09:14 am.

    These ID amendments are unique in other ways

    Unlike almost every other constitutional amendment, this ID amendment is a product of pure partisan deception. The arguments for it, the description of it, and predictions of it’s impact, and rationale for it’s creation, have all been riddled with deliberate misinformation. The sponsors have been evasive and disingenuous. Basic elements such as cost, implementation, and even the nature of the required ID have deliberately shrouded in secrecy and obscurity. We don’t even know for sure who authored this amendment. While it’s authors claim to have written it, the hand of ALEC is clearly visible.

    This is not the way, and these are not the people you want writing your constitution.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/15/2012 - 09:31 am.

    A Balanced and Accurate Treatment

    Thanks Mr. Spicer for a balanced article about how the right to vote came to be what it is today.

    Unfortunately, NONE of that matters to those proposing this Voter I.D. amendment. What matters to them is their belief that it will help them win elections,…

    and disenfranchise a lot of the 47% whom they believe shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the first place.

    Their abiding belief that, although the government should probably provide help for those unable to help themselves, the very fact that someone NEEDS government help ,…

    means that they CERTAINLY don’t deserve, it flavors their perspective on who should be allowed to vote.

    It is their view that those who need help just need to get up and do whatever’s necessary so that they won’t need help anymore (except, of course, for wealthy, profitable, corporations and extremely wealthy individuals who always deserve whatever help they feel they need – at taxpayer expense).

    Of course our “conservative” friends have no idea that there are many physical and mental ailments that make it difficult if not impossible for some folks to build self-sustaining lives, nor would they ever dirty their hands or risk a challenge to their own very narrow sense of reality by seeking to help those people, themselves.

    Furthermore, the ways our “conservative” friends have restructured the economy and government tax policy mean that they get to make and keep most of the profits produced by everyone else’s labor, which, of course, makes it more difficult for ALL of us to sustain our lives.

    In the end, the Voter I.D. law represents nothing more nor less than our “conservative” friends effort to “fire,” as citizens, all those whom they deem unworthy,…

    i.e. all those who are not feeding those wealthy person’s bank accounts. But then, we already know they love to fire people, even good, solid employees, if it means they’ll make more money, themselves, and their employees, in the aggregate, will make less.

    What they expect to do when the average citizens of this nation have become so impoverished that no one can afford to buy the products their companies produce is something they seem to be unable to think about.

    The final, ignorant, blunder behind this effort to disenfranchise voters they’d like to fire from citizenship, is related to human nature. It is ONLY the right to vote that keeps struggling citizens feeling as if they are a part of this nation, and helps keep the resentments which lead to revolution and anarchy at bay.

    If we make it impossible for such people to feel invested in their own nation by making it difficult if not impossible for them to vote, we exponentially increase the likelihood that unrest and violence of the poor and disenfranchised, aimed at those they perceive to have stolen the jobs and income that should have been their own, will rapidly begin to arise.

    • Submitted by myles spicer on 10/15/2012 - 10:23 am.

      sadly true

      While I must defend my commentary as accurate, relevant and hopefully meaningful, for those who are promoting this absurd Amendment, my argument is likely to be water off a duck’s back. Such is life in modern fringe American politics today.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/15/2012 - 10:55 am.

    Ya never know

    Myles, when this whole thing started 80% of Minnesotan’s thought this was a grand idea. Something’s changing peoples minds. If we can just get 95% of the democrats to vote for this it’s done.

    • Submitted by myles spicer on 10/15/2012 - 11:44 am.

      agree, but…

      As Greg points out it is cloaked in a mantle of misinformation, and the average voter has no idea what he/she is REALLY voting about. Frankly, I am fearful, and this is really a serious blow to legitimate voting in what is just about the cleanest election state in the country. One can only hope you surmise will happen.

  4. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 10/15/2012 - 11:31 am.

    Free Voter ID for every FIRST–only then can you ask for it.

    You can’t show a Voter ID if you don’t have one. IF a citizen is eligible to vote is nowhere in the US Constitution–thus all citizens of voting age are eligible to vote. States do not have the authority to interfere in a citizen’s right to vote. If states issued an ID to everyone at no charge, then it would be acceptable to require that ID to vote. However, that free state-issued ID does not exist and has never existed (the state will NOT issue a “free ID” if you walk in and ask for it). Thus, requiring something that does not exist (free ID) in order to get one’s constitutionally-guaranteed rights (to vote) is illegal.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/15/2012 - 01:21 pm.

    Free IDs


    This is why these “simple” ID laws are tied up in courts all over the country. They’re not so simple and they are in fact designed to restrict voting (primarily voting for democrats). ID proponents promise us they’ll pass constitutional muster but it turns out that’s not so obvious.

  6. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 10/15/2012 - 03:59 pm.

    Even constitutional movement the other direction was different

    Even the one time we did amend the constitution to restrict voting was very different from this proposed amendment. In 1896, we amended the constitution to disenfranchise aliens, for the first time requiring citizenship. Even though that change worked in the opposite direction from the 1868 enfranchisement of “negroes” and the subsequent enfranchisements of women, Indians, and those between 18 and 21 years of age, it shares the same focus on fundamental eligibility criteria, not the procedures used to verify eligibility. Nothing was put into the constitution about how citizenship would be verified; that was left to statutes, administrative rules, or individual discretion, just as the verification of maleness was. (Imagine constitutionalizing that!)

  7. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 10/15/2012 - 05:21 pm.

    The proposed amendment can only have one title

    It isn’t right to change the Minnesota Constitution just to serve the Republicans. The Constitution is there to serve all Minnesotan’s. The only title this proposed amendment can have is “DON’T VOTE FOR THIS AMENDMENT”. The Republicans are unable to govern based on sound ideas, because they are still using George W. Bush talking points, so they want to change the Minnesota Constitution. It is all part of a nationally orchestrated campaign by the Republicans to disenfranchise those not likely to vote for them. The Republican’s can’t point to any fraud that would warrant millions to be spent to install and manage a so called “Free” Voter ID System. Romney is right, even though he denies it, the Republican’s are not concerned about 47% of Americans. This is proof the Republican’s don’t have a moral core. Voters the Republican’s are sending you a significant message; they are not fit for public office. The choice is yours in November.

  8. Submitted by Susan McNerney on 10/15/2012 - 11:06 pm.

    If voter ID passes

    I have to wonder what’s going to happen when huge numbers of seniors can’t vote.

    It’s inevitable, and they’re the biggest group. What was the number in Wisconsin? 200k? And interestingly, they’re growing more conservative as the WW2 generation passes away.

    What are conservatives going to do when their own grannies are blocked at the polls? When church busses pull up to the polling place to fill their bubbles for Bachmann, and they’re stopped in their tracks?

    When the conservatives themselves forget or don’t realize they have to have a current address on the card?

    Good grief it’ll be a howling mess. They’ll be screaming oppression, demanding Marc Richie’s head, even though they brought it on themselves. Because even if some experts think ID will hurt democrats more, I”m quite sure the effect on republicans will be rather severe, and they have no idea what’s going to hit them.

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