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Voter ID: If you give the people enough time, they usually will do the right thing

Photo by Terry Gydesen
It was truly amazing to watch Minnesotans reject the proposed state constitutional amendment that would have required eligible voters to obtain a state-issued photo identification card to cast their ballots.

The old truism remained true on voter ID Tuesday.

Namely, that if you give the people enough time, they usually will do the right thing.

It was truly amazing to watch Minnesotans reject the proposed state constitutional amendment that would have required eligible voters to obtain a state-issued photo identification card to cast their ballots.  Especially amazing after polls a year ago showed 80 percent of the public favored the idea, including 60 percent of the Democrats, who apparently did not realize they would be committing political suicide if they voted for it.

Somehow, people began to get the idea that this was a bad idea because added cost and bureaucracy would make it harder for certain groups — seniors, people of color, the poor and the young, especially college students away from home — to get to the polls. This realization developed even though the public debate never quite focused on the truth of what this was all about. Namely that the push for voter ID in Minnesota was just one weapon in a long-term, well-organized national campaign by the Republican Party and their ultraconservative allies to depress Democratic votes by imposing new burdens on the groups mentioned, which together tend to vote Democratic and which demonstrated that fact Tuesday by serving as the core of President Barack Obama’s second-term victory.

Courts intervened

The GOP has been at this with great fervor since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Indiana voter-ID law several years ago.  Just during the last two years, voter-ID bills have been introduced by Republcans in as many as three dozen state legislatures, according to various nonprofit watchdog organizations. Ten or so have passed and become law. Fortunately, in response to opposition complaints, courts have invalidated some of them or at least laid them on the shelf for this election.

Republicans, including in Minnesota, have been very good at not spilling what they really are up to.  They successfully framed he debate in terms of preventing voter fraud. To hear them talk, you would have thought this was something handed down from heaven, as if it were the 11th Commandment. Only once, in Pennsylvania, have they been known to mess up and tell the truth. There a Republican leader in the state legislature proudly announced that they had passed voter ID to help Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, win the White House — in other words, to make it more difficult for otherwise eligible Democratic voters to get to the polls. Fortunately, a judge delayed implementation of the law, and it was not in effect for Tuesday’s election. Obama easily carried Pennsylvania, with help of his core constituency.

Here in Minnesota, supporters of voter ID struggled but failed to make the case that voter fraud exists in this state.  I have been associated either as a junior newspaper editor or as an election judge with the three major statewide election recounts in Minnesota’s more recent history — for governor in 1962, U.S. senator in 2008 and governor again in 2010.  Never once in any of those extended contests was there any claim of fraud by either side. Not once.

Same deal over that period with recounts for elections for the legislature or local office. No voter fraud claims.

Other weapons in party’s voter-suppression arsenal

Voter ID is not the only weapon in the GOP voter suppression arsenal.  Other examples from key states in Tuesday’s voting:

  • In Ohio, Republican officials initially ordered that early voting be restricted in mostly black precincts in Cincinnati. Fortunately, the balance between black city precinicts and white usually GOP suburban precincts was redressed in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ohio, as we know, went for Obama.
  • In Florida, the Republican-controlled state government embarked on a plan to purge noncitizens from its voter rolls, aiming particularly at black and Latino districts. The first time around, many citizens complained that they were improperly given arbitrary notices to prove their citizenship in limited time or be removed from the rolls. A lawsuit determined that many mistakes were made in the first round. Hundreds were restored to the polling lists. The purge continued with what the state claimed were more accurate databases that would avoid errors. But the targets remained the same.  Florida maintained its tradition of being the last state in the nation to complete counting ballots. 
  • In some states, new Republican-sponsored laws impose tougher restrictions and greater penalties on groups that primarily focus on registering the poor and minorities to vote. The law in Florida is so harsh that even the League of Women Voters was scared off, temporarily suspending its registratiion efforts until a court intervened.

The power of word-of-mouth

In Minnesota a lot of money eventually was spent for and against voter ID. But I think word-of-mouth also had a lot to do with its resounding failure. I’ll give you just one example. A woman very close to me was meeting Monday, the day before the election, with a nurse in her doctor’s office. The woman asked if  her malady would prevent her from serving as an election judge the next day. The nurse said she would be fine. But then the nurse asked what this voter ID thing was all about. She said she didn’t know whom to believe. After a brief discussion of the facts, the nurse indicated she would be voting no.

Now that the election is over, the secretary of state’s office is estimating that our 76 percent turnout may again be leading the nation. That is all well and good. But not good enough. Should we not be looking for ways to encourage even greater participation in elections, the root right of our country, rather than be looking for partisan ways to make it harder to cast a ballot? 

Frank Wright is a former managing editor and foreign correspondent for the Star Tribune.


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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 11/09/2012 - 01:54 pm.

    Future elections

    And hopefully the victory here (in both voter ID and marriage) will provide other states with a blueprint for defeating these abominations.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/09/2012 - 05:51 pm.

    Ring Ring

    It was conversations that turned the tide. Thousands of them. The phone banks were very well run. The messages well-crafted. They keep the volunteers motivated. Tell a personal story about why this matters to you, maybe about your grandma that is in a nursing home, your cousin who served in Iraq

    I phoned weekly. Each week, there were a few more volunteers than the week before. Support for voter ID was a mile wide and an inch deep. If people gave you the time to talk, they often moved from yes or neutral to no. It was not hard,once they found out it was about a lot more than just showing an ID card at the polls. Property tax payers will foot the bill. We may not be able to vote absentee, and that will effect seniors that are home bound or in nursing homes as well as overseas military. This will go in the constitution, so we have to get it right the first time. The advertisements reinforced the message. After a while, we started hearing the message repeated back to us by the people we were calling.

    One of my favorite calls was with an NRA member and Obama conspiracy believer. He lived in a part of the state that doesn’t have polling places; elections are conducted entirely by mail. He agreed this was a bad idea.

    Not exempting seniors in nursing homes and military voters, as other states have done, may have been the Achilles heel of this amendments backers.

  3. Submitted by C. Dorr on 11/10/2012 - 12:24 am.

    Voter ID-MN voters did the right thing to reject it.

    Thanks Frank, for telling it like it is.
    Photo ID is just one of many pieces in the GOP/conservative toolbox. They want to change the playing field & will use any method to do it. No wonder that it did not have bipartisian support during the last 2 years of the Legislature.
    Voter restricitions & ID laws are the way that one side works to change public policy. Photo ID was about more than restriciting the right to vote or promoting “election integrity”. It was about seeing that “your side” gets your people elected to office. And gets your agenda done. Forget about protecting the rights & views of the minority party. It’s about steamrolling your own politics.
    THAT is NOT how democracy works in Minnesota. Or in the USA.

    The opponents had a tough hill to climb – we had to prove a negative – that “voter fraud” didn’t exist. Fortunately, we had some first-hand GOP sources who had made public statements to the media about this. (Fritz Knaack after the Coleman/Franken lawsuit “we looked for fraud & we couldn’t find it.”) The GOP ended up talking on both sides of the issue – supporters ranting about massive fraud, yet, the lawyers saying there was none. Further, us opponents were bolstered by 2 excellent
    reports from Citizens for Election Integrity MN on Voter Fraud & Felon Voting Problems (2010) and
    on the Cost of the Elections Amendment (2012). There was so much to not like about this Amendment that it ended up having a spectrum of negative points. Lots of low-hanging rotten fruit !

    It has been a 2 year battle over Photo ID as it wound it torturous way throught the Legislative process, then onto the ballot. Massive amounts of money & time were spent by both sides on this ridiculous & unnecessary issue. Reflecting back on this effort, I keep returning to this one fundamental question:
    What other good things could have been done for our citizens & State with that money & talent? How many more classroom teachers or tutors for after school programs? Or school lunches / meals on wheels / food shelf supplies provided ? How many people could have gotten an affordable place to live ? How many potholes filled, or crumbling bridges fixed ? The list goes on & on of the unmet
    needs of our people. This was truly a missed opportunity to do heaps of good things.

    Let’s try to do better & get on with making Minnesota a State that works for EVERYBODY !

    C. Dorr, Mpls Election Judge, member League of Women Voters & CEIMN.

  4. Submitted by kay kessel on 11/10/2012 - 08:40 am.

    voter ID

    Why didn’t the journalists tell this story before the election? I was one of the persons that called representing the League of Women Voters, Isaiah, and as a Retired educator in Minneapolis. So many students of color we served in Minneapolis would have been marginalized by this amendment.

    The ad by former Governor Arne Carlson and Governor Mark Dayton changed the conversations when we called. The newspaper editors throughout the state were right on!

    I called many seniors in their 70’s 80’s and 90’s. They understood we should vote “no” even the 99 year old woman outstate.

    It was hard work but I am so happy that the mean spirited authors of this constitutional amendment learned their lesson. There should be consequences for lying about Voter Fraud.

  5. Submitted by tiffany vanvorken on 11/10/2012 - 08:47 am.

    voter ID

    I went to the doctor on Nov. 1st.. his receptionist asked for a picture ID. I have been going there for years. they knew who I was. They said it was a new procedure to protect peoples privacy!
    I voted yes for voter ID.
    Rember the comedian (Al Franken) won by 312 votes. every vote is precious.

  6. Submitted by myles spicer on 11/10/2012 - 09:38 am.

    nationally too

    Kindly note how few (actually none to date) allegations of voter fraud were charged throughout the nation in the recent election. This whole thing of course is a solution in search of a problem.

  7. Submitted by tiffany vanvorken on 11/10/2012 - 10:42 am.

    voter ID

    kindly note how few people have misrepresented themselves at the doctors office!

  8. Submitted by tiffany vanvorken on 11/10/2012 - 11:06 am.

    Voter ID

    The no voters of this amendment have no foresight.
    This was to PREVENT voter fraud. The fact that we had little or no voter fraud in the past (so you say) has nothing to do with the foresight of putting this law in place.
    How many times have laws been created AFTER the problem occurred.
    One day we will wish we had a voter ID law.
    The doctors office had foresight in asking for a picture ID to prevent a lawsuit for breach of privacy.

  9. Submitted by tiffany vanvorken on 11/10/2012 - 06:30 pm.

    Voter ID

    The law was meant to PREVENT fraud.
    Many laws are made after the crime is committed.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 11/11/2012 - 11:38 am.

      What a great idea!

      Let’s make this a completely totalitarian state! That way we can prevent ALL the crimes before they’re committed!

      By the way, would you characterize yourself as a small government conservative?

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/11/2012 - 09:08 am.

    Voter ID prevents voter impersonation. Ms. Vanvorken; are you able share any hard data to suggest that voter impersonation is a problem in elections?

    I don’t think most of the people who post here even understand the mechanics of how an election works.

    People come in, fill out an application to vote, and we check it against our list of registered voters in the precinct. When you fill out your application, it needs to match the information in our registration records exactly.

    This cross-check of information is all that you really need to ensure the integrity of the election.

    If you check out as a registered voter, your name is flagged so we know you came in, and you then proceed to vote. People who requested an absentee ballot were already flagged on the list, so we know they already voted. Once a person is flagged as voting in the election, obviously they are not permitted to vote again.

    Making people show ID doesn’t really add much security to the process, since the act of matching the name and address information on the application to the registration rolls adds a lot of integrity.

    Now I’m not saying that requiring government issued ID at the polls doesn’t add security, I’m saying that the costs do not outweigh the marginal benefits it adds.

    What would make sense is making it tougher to actually become a registered voter by adding more stingent ID requirements during the application process. But making people produce a photo ID on election day is dumb.

    A well designed system would control for the fraud variable during registration, thereby making the registration rolls more secure. Showing ID on election day just doesn’t add much to election security that the current system doesn’t already do.

  11. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/11/2012 - 10:13 am.

    Pray tell

    How does showing your photo ID protect your privacy? Just because someone says something, it doesn’t make it true.

  12. Submitted by Steve Roth on 11/11/2012 - 08:26 pm.

    Missing Media Coverage

    “…even though the public debate never quite focused on the truth of what this was all about. Namely that the push for voter ID in Minnesota was just one weapon in a long-term, well-organized national campaign by the Republican Party and their ultraconservative allies to depress Democratic votes by imposing new burdens on the groups mentioned”

    Very true. It was interesting and frustrating to see the local media fall over themselves trying to find “balance” – in their reporting, and not mentioning the ultimate goal of the Republican Party here. There was also little reporting closer to the election that Kiffmeyer and her cohorts summarily rejected the solution the Secretary of State and the DFL proposed earlier in the year.

    Ultimately, and the voting public knew what was at stake here, and what true agenda for the GOP was all about.

  13. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 11/11/2012 - 08:45 pm.

    Voter fraud

    “With 1,099 examples identified by Minnesota Majority, and with evidence suggesting that felons, when they do vote, strongly favor Democrats, it doesn’t require a leap to suggest there might one day be proof that Al Franken was elected on the strength of voter fraud.

    And that’s just the question of voting by felons. Minnesota Majority also found all sorts of other irregularities that cast further doubt on the Senate results.”

    From a review of the book on voter fraud by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky. The law that proscribes voter fraud is Minnesota Statute 201.014 sub. 3: “Any individual who votes who knowingly is not eligible to vote is guilty of a felony.”

    “Minnesota Majority took the information to prosecutors across the state, many of whom showed no interest in pursuing it. But Minnesota law requires authorities to investigate such leads. And so far, Fund and von Spakovsky report, 177 people have been convicted — not just accused, but convicted — of voting fraudulently in the Senate race. Another 66 are awaiting trial. “The numbers aren’t greater,” the authors say, “because the standard for convicting someone of voter fraud in Minnesota is that they must have been both ineligible, and ‘knowingly’ voted unlawfully.” The accused can get off by claiming not to have known they did anything wrong.

    Still, that’s a total of 243 people either convicted of voter fraud or awaiting trial in an election that was decided by 312 votes. With 1,099 examples identified by Minnesota Majority, and with evidence suggesting that felons, when they do vote, strongly favor Democrats, it doesn’t require a leap to suggest there might one day be proof that Al Franken was elected on the strength of voter fraud.”

    Anyone who claims there is no voter fraud in Minnesota is either ignorant of objective fact or is lying.

    • Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/12/2012 - 08:49 am.

      Voter fraud is rare and voter impersonation even more so and these laws would be largely ineffective against it. Far from preserving the integrity of the electoral process, one could argue that these laws imperil it by stoking fears of a rare crime and using it to cast doubt on an election’s outcome.

      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.

      • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 11/12/2012 - 06:07 pm.

        Did you even read my post?

        I cited a legitimate source and you pretend it doesn’t exist. There are objective facts cited, a chain of evidence, and you refuse to accept the existence of objective, provable fact.

        There is nothing more to be said.

  14. Submitted by Steve Roth on 11/11/2012 - 08:47 pm.

    In addition…

    …the media also didn’t report enough on who was responsible for getitng this whole thing moving: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Would have loved to have seen the relationship Mary Kiffmeyer and other GOPers involved in the Voter ID ammendment explored more.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/15/2012 - 09:55 am.

    I read Neal’s comment

    This comment is a perfect example the outright dishonesty upon which the entire photo ID initiative was based. It’s possible that Neal is simply repeating claims he thinks are valid, but this claim of over a thousand cases of fraud that gave Franken the election is actually the very definition of an unsubstantiated claim. It is but one of many unsubstantiated claims deliberately promoted as fact by Minnesota Majority from the very beginning. Some claims were merely unsubstantiated, others such as the numbers of postal verification cards returned and illegal vouchers were flat out discredited.

    The dishonesty here isn’t limited to discredited facts. You will note that the rhetoric addresses “fraud” while the amendment targeted voter impersonation and ONLY voter impersonation. Even if you give MM their thousand cases of fraud, photo ID would have done absolutely nothing to prevent that fraud. This was a deliberate obfuscation of the issue meant to confuse and conflate different types of fraud. We know there’s fraud, THAT was never the debate. The debate was whether or not voter ID was a solution to any fraud problem, and the answer is simply “no”. Photo ID targets the one type of fraud that doesn’t exist. These general fraud claims simply divert attention away from the real issue, that’s not an accident, why do that?

    So you have to ask yourself: Why the games? Why the tricky rhetoric? Why the diversions and distraction and the unsubstantiated claims? Why the ballot question that doesn’t even come close to describing the actual amendment? Does this look like an honest attempt to fix our election system or was it something else? I think the election results tell us that Minnesotan’s decided it was something else. I think they were right.

    Neal, although there may some merit to examining the forces and movements behind the photo ID initiative, the debate over the initiative itself is effectively over. The arguments of that debate are now a matter of record, these claims of yours have long since been issued and refuted. Anyone who wants to study the debate can now do so, but there’s nothing new to debate, and therefore no reason to continue the debate.

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