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Voter ID? Get the facts across with a story

Jocelyn Hale
Jocelyn Hale

I recently heard a pundit say after a political debate, “People don’t care about the facts. They want to hear a story they can relate to.” In my role as executive director of the Loft, I am not sure whether to delight or despair at this comment. We know that compelling narrative always gets people’s attention, but do we have to give up the facts to get our point across? I vote no. 

For instance, what if I wanted to write a commentary about the voter ID amendment? I could share the facts with you about disenfranchisement of the young, poor, and elderly and cite budget numbers about how much such a new law would cost. But you might glaze over and move on to the comics. This is where storytelling comes in. Instead of diving straight into the facts, start with the drama.

Four days before my mother died, she rose from her hospice bed, and voted with an absentee ballot. A lifelong activist, my mother cared deeply about the issues that impacted the quality of life in our state. She read the newspaper daily and often talked back to it when there was no one else to listen by making elaborate notes in the margins.

During her life she had chaired commissions, worked in government, and volunteered on causes. By the time she reached her final five years, she had lost her drivers’ license, her passport had expired, and she had no ID. But she followed the issues and understood what was at stake.

She still had strong opinions (and no Mom, I’m not going to change my hairstyle but thanks for suggesting it). She deserved to vote. Thankfully, she was given the chance. An absentee election judge went door to door at the nursing home and my sister served as my mother’s witness.

If my mother had been denied her vote because of the lack of photo ID, she would have had lots of company.

  •  18 percent of elderly citizens do not have a government-issued photo ID.
  • 15 percent of voters earning less than $35,000 a year do not have a photo ID.
  • 18 percent of citizens aged 18-24 do not have a government-issued ID with their current address and name.
  • 10 percent of voters with disabilities do not have a photo ID. 
  • 25 percent of African-American citizens of voting age do not have a current, government-issued ID

My mother voted and smiled through her pain, knowing that she still had a role to play in our society. We later joked that it was a good thing she did not have to live with the outcome because the electorate swung against her stance. My mother died on Election Day, but on her last gasp, she was able to weigh in to our democratic process to cast her informed vote for the common good. She was proud to vote and told us so before she drifted away.

The lesson for a strong opinion piece is to lead with a story and weave the facts into the fabric.

Jocelyn Hale is executive director of The Loft Literary Center. Her opinion pieces have been aired nationally on Marketplace Radio and published in the Star Tribune, MinnPost, Minnesota Woman’s Press, Minnesota Daily, and the Southwest Journal.


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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 10/31/2012 - 07:04 am.

    Voter ID

    Miss Hale may consult “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk”, by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky for another view.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/31/2012 - 08:14 am.


      Knowing how critically interested you are in establishing the partisanship credentials of any given author, I thought I’d give you a hand here with regards to the authors of the book you’re recommending:

      Hans von Spakovsky

      John Fund

      Happy to help!

      • Submitted by Richard Voorhees on 10/31/2012 - 03:03 pm.

        More story

        See the current NEW YORKER for Jane Mayer’s portrait of von Spakovsky.

        • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 10/31/2012 - 05:53 pm.

          Your sources.

          Wikipedia is notoriously inaccurate, where facts can change by the minute, by editors who have political agendas. The New Yorker has its own set of socio-political beliefs.

          I mentioned the book as a source of assertions of fact on the part of its authors, assertions that counter argue against those of Miss Hale. It is up to you and Miss Hale to view the assertions of Misters Lund and von Spakovsky and decide if their claims and sources are legitimate.

  2. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 10/31/2012 - 09:28 am.

    Can’t require Voter ID until….

    every voter has been issued an accepted ID with which to vote.

    Think about it. If you dare.

    You say “wrong”? Then go ahead and drive a car on the roads without a driver’s license, perform surgery without being medically licensed, and so on. Then tell the judge why *you* are right.

    • Submitted by Karen Cole on 10/31/2012 - 11:46 am.

      Have you read the piece?

      It shows in black and white how you are wrong.

    • Submitted by Phil Dech on 11/01/2012 - 04:21 pm.

      Both driving and performing surgery

      are privileges, not rights. That is a critical difference, and as such both are subject to much different rules than voting.

    • Submitted by Randall Ryder on 11/02/2012 - 02:46 pm.

      Are You Serious?

      I have been involved in services for disabled adults most of my life. Do you realize how very difficult it is for these citizens to obtain a photo ID?

  3. Submitted by Molly Grove on 10/31/2012 - 12:03 pm.

    Thank you for such a beautiful story. I got tears in my eyes.

  4. Submitted by John Edwards on 10/31/2012 - 12:24 pm.

    I agree story telling is effective . . .

    . . . here is mine from the LA Times Oct. 24 : WASHINGTON – The son of a Virginia congressman resigned from his father’s campaign Wednesday after an undercover video captured him discussing possible voter fraud. Patrick Moran, whose father is Democratic Rep. James P. Moran, was secretly recorded in a video posted by conservative activist James O’Keefe. In the video, Moran, who was working as his father’s campaign field director, talks about using utility bills and other documents to evade Virginia’s new voter ID laws. The person who made the recording – saying he was a worried supporter of President Obama – asked for Moran’s advice in casting votes for 100 Virginia residents who weren’t going to the polls.“He’ll need bills,” Moran said, standing outside an Arlington, Va., sandwich shop, referring to the requirement to present identification. “He’ll need something with their name and address on it.”

    That story, of course, I did not see in the Star-Tribune despite its obvious relevance in this election.
    Obviously, what Moran should have said was: “what you are suggesting is illegal. End of story.” He did not. I am sure it is just coincidental that he is a Democrat.


  5. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/31/2012 - 12:42 pm.


    As I noted in a recent Community Voices article, this amendment is contrary to over 200 years of history in our country of INCREASING enfranchisment. The one exception were the Jim Crow laws to restrict voting — and they were so onerous they were thankfully dissolved. The reasons for this amendment are clear and obviously transparent. Do we really want to go backwards in our country to more restrictive voting…or forward to bring MORE voters into the process we call democracy?

  6. Submitted by Steven Faulhaber on 10/31/2012 - 01:37 pm.

    Thank you for providing actual data!

    Thank you, Ms. Hale, for providing some real numbers on who this will effect and by giving the wonderful example of your mother to help people relate. I’ve been discussing this amendment quite a bit lately and have struggled to express my concern about disenfranchising people.

    Can you please provide some sources for the numbers you’ve shared? It would be very helpful in discussing this with nay-sayers.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/31/2012 - 03:30 pm.

    We can all refer, as well, to the carefully-researched article by Jane Mayer in the current New Yorker magazine, about the voter fraud Myth and Hans Von Spakovsky and his buddies. He is a Republican flunkie of long standing, and has helped people like the Pennsylvania governor assure that state’s electoral votes for Romney by establishing a voter ID law there and combining it with voter intimidation via eliminating legitimate voters’ registrations (that are on the books and have been, for years). They challenge legitimate voters on their addresses. Curiously, most of the challenged voters are minorities, and almost none of the challenges stands. Problem is, most challenged people are so afraid of the courts, and can’t afford the challenge, that they let their disenfranchisment stand. The attack on Democratic voter blocs is not simply voter photo ID.

    Mayer also points out that it has only been suddenly and recently that there have been false claims of voter impersonation fraud (the only kind that would be addressed by photo ID requirements). There is no impersonation fraud in the U. S. Nevertheless, thirty-seven states have passed or are passing, in the past TWO YEARS!, voter ID laws. It was, she said, the 2008 election that brought out so many minorities that incensed the GOP nationally. They are fiercely attempting every method they can think of to suppress those voters.

    Incidentally, Mayer ties this boom in ID laws to ALEC. She has facts to contradict and disprove Hans Von Katovsky’s every allegation.

  8. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 10/31/2012 - 04:38 pm.

    Voter ID

    The one point that people rarely even discuss is that fact that many of the people who would need to go out and get a photo ID will need the documents to obtain it. First of all, who is going to pay for them to obtain a birth certificate or whatever else will be needed to even obtain a photo ID.

    Secondly, some will be unable to obtain a birth certificate because there is no birth certificate to obtain. Some people who were born at home in the first half of the last century may not have a birth certificate because none was issued. Think of our elderly immigrants who came from Eastern or Westren Europe, or Russia following World War II. Many of these people came here because their countries were literally distroyed by the war. Few of them can obtain a birth certificate because they no longer exist.

    They have been citizens for all these years and their vote is one of the most precious valuables they have left and, for the sake of preventing how many fraudulent votes a year, their right to vote would be denied.

  9. Submitted by Richard Helle on 11/03/2012 - 08:50 am.

    Vote No

    I will be voting no on this amendment for the simple fact that the cost and implementation are unknown. If this passes, then the legislature will be required to create a whole new bureaucracy and a way to pay for it. Depending on which party controls the State Congress after the election, this legislation will be either useless or over the top restrictive. Of course the Governor is likely to veto everything related to this that comes across his desk so it will not be acted upon any time soon. All in all, this is a monumental waste of time.

  10. Submitted by David Mensing on 11/05/2012 - 04:54 am.

    New polls

    I received an e-mail from the Vote NO coalition that says that liberal-leaning PPP has polled Minnesota and has the Voter ID amendment failing by a 51-46 margin. Also, tweets indicate that a SUSA poll, which showed Obama up big in Minnesota, also showed a tied race for the Photo ID Amendment (48-48). As time has gone on, the support for this ill-conceived proposal has cratered. I am opposed to this plan anyway, but the way this has been put together should be an embarrassment to its supporters.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/05/2012 - 11:12 am.

    Sometimes you don’t have “stories”

    Different arguments appeal to different people, and different subjects lend themselves more or less to a story telling form of argument. It’s important to remember that everyone doesn’t think like “you” or respond the way you do. Regardless of how this vote goes tomorrow it is absolutely remarkable that support for voter ID has plunged so drastically from 80% to below 50%. This is a testament to the wide variety and sheer number of different appeals and arguments that have been made in opposition to the amendment. We’ve had everything from story telling to legalistic arguments and I think it’s fair to say that all of them played a roll in change minds. It’s also revealing that this amendment is soooooo riddled with problems that such a vast array of perfectly legitimate arguments have been leveled against it.

  12. Submitted by sheila taylor on 11/05/2012 - 02:08 pm.

    Nice little story but…

    Nice little story but the voter ID amendment Will pass on Tuesday because there’s still enough people out there with the common sense to realize our voting rights are worth protecting. For anyone who doesn’t think voter fraud exists in Minnesota, I give you two examples, Mark Dayton and Al Franken. The amount of sheer wrong-headed rhetoric here is unbelievable. The disengenuous excuses and fabricated reasons against it are at best laughable and at worst, a shameful example of the Left’s willingness to not only except but encourage fraud at one of our government’s most sacred institutions.

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