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Voting amendment foes mobilize college students to get out message

Student leaders from across the state joined Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak to condemn what they called an unnecessary amendment that would restrict voter participation.

“With all of these unintended consequences, what problem are we trying to solve?” Mayor Rybak asked at a rally opposing the voting amendment Tuesday.
MinnPost photo by James Nord

Opponents of the proposed voting amendment on Tuesday mobilized college students to hammer home its message: The ballot question is too expensive to implement and could significantly alter absentee balloting and end Election Day registration.

A group of student leaders from across the state joined Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak in front of Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota to condemn what they called an unnecessary amendment that would end Election Day registration — crucial for many student voters — and complicate absentee voting for transient college kids.

They also raised concerns that students might not be able to use college IDs as acceptable identification to vote.

“With all of these unintended consequences, what problem are we trying to solve?” Rybak asked. “The Legislature needs to get this done — send this back … let’s not use our constitution to limit rights.”

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If the amendment passes, the new Legislature then would have to draft enabling legislation to outline how it will be implemented. Opponents have seized on that uncertainty and urged voters to send the measure back to the Legislature to have all of its effects publicly aired and potential problems fixed.

“We can’t be sure just how many votes will be restricted if the Voter ID amendment passes because the Legislature has failed to provide any details about its associated enabling legislation, engaging, instead, in a ‘trust us’ game on this critical issue,” said professor Chris Cramer, a faculty leader at the U.

Taylor Williams, president of the U’s Minnesota Student Association, said funding the potentially costly amendment could go toward holding down tuition prices and making higher education more affordable.

“It’s time we put students in front of unnecessary constitutional amendments,” he said. “We are a better investment than this law.”

But voting amendment advocates say the cost of any new system – estimates vary wildly – is worth clean elections. They insist that most aspects of voting in Minnesota will stay the same, despite opponents’ doomsday predictions.

Rebecca Doepke, president of the U’s College Republicans, criticized student leaders for taking a stand against the ballot question. Statewide, she said, her group has been working with advocates to support the amendment.

“I personally don’t think it’s the place of student government to get involved in the amendment issues because they tend to be more partisan,” she said in an interview on Monday. “Student government, like the U, ought to remain unpartisan and represent the student body as whole.”

Greta Bergstrom, a spokeswoman for the opposition groups, said after the event that it’s important to constantly engage the diverse constituencies that oppose the amendment.In the past the Our Vote Our Future coalition has highlighted the voting amendment’s potential consequences on seniors, local governments and the military.

“There’s so many complications, there’s so many consequences and the amendment would impact really different constituencies in different ways,” Bergstrom said.

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With two weeks till Election Day, recent polls have shown the voting amendment’s popularity slipping. Our Vote Our Future released another broadcast TV advertisement on Tuesday that’s airing in the Twin Cities.

“Two weeks is an eternity in politics … you have to remember we’ve also been on the phone for three months. We’ve talked to hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans, and the support is really soft and has been soft on this amendment,” she said. “I think the TV ads are coming at the right time and helping to reinforce what a lot of Minnesotans have already been hearing.”