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Constitutional amendment booths at State Fair draw many supporters — and occasional hecklers

While most of the booths at the State Fair are competing for the stomachs and taste buds of Minnesotans, there's a new battle going on this year for the hearts and minds and souls and votes of fairgoers.

Each of the two proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot — the marriage amendment and the voting amendment — has two booths at the fair: one urging passage, and one asking voters to say no.

That's four amendment issue booths altogether (plus there's an ACLU booth in the Education Building, urging folks to vote no on both proposed amendments).

And all four booths are relatively close together, north of Dan Patch Avenue, near the Kidway area that has child-size rides.

 And while many argue that neither issue is strictly partisan, it's interesting that all the booths are fairly close to the DFL booth in the northeast area of the fairgrounds, and quite distant from the Republican booth farther south.

That's just a coincidence, fair officials say. That area, to the north, generally has space available for booths that don't need electricity or water, so space was available for the issues booths this year.

Big issues in small booths at the fair brings these often-heated and emotional philosophical and political debates directly to lots of hot and sweaty people, some of whom have imbibed a bit (mostly in the late evening hours).

I've heard some reports of heckling and jeering from opponents targeting both the yes and no booths, but workers standing in the sun on Tuesday trying to get supporter's signatures told me it's not been a big problem.

And during the several afternoon hours I spent at all the booths, I saw no blatant disrespect from passers-by; almost everyone engaging with the booths was already a supporter of that particular position and was stopping by to show support or sign up for volunteer activities.

At each booth, I did hear people ask for lawn signs and bumper stickers, but the fair does not allow either. (That rule is not just for political booths; it's fair-wide, to prevent vandalism and rampant stickering of buildings and light poles, and to  keep visitors from inadvertently skewering each other with pointed lawn sign sticks.)

Each booth has information, though, on how to get lawn signs from their campaign offices.

Workers at each booth urged supporters to sign in, both as a way of solidifying support (if you've signed up for a cause, you're more likely to remain wedded to it — so to speak — and to remember to vote), but also to add to the database of supporters who can be called in to help in the last months of the campaign, for phone rooms or door-knocking or additional financial help.

And at the Vote Yes booths, there are signs and constant verbal reminders to vote yes on the ballot questions. They note that any voter who skips the amendment questions is counted as a “no” vote because passage requires a majority of all those voting in the election.

Here’s a quick look at what I found at each booth:

Vote Yes, marriage amendment

Chuck Darrell, communications director for Minnesota for Marriage, which is running the pro-marriage amendment booth on Cooper Street, was happy to sit on a nearby bench while chatting. He'd recently had knee surgery.

vote yes marriage amdt
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
Booth volunteer Mike Prenosil of Shoreview talked with Dan and Karen Hawes of Robbinsdale on Tuesday at the Fair's Vote Yes on the Marriage Amendment booth.

“Most people say they're glad they've found us and ask how can they help,” Darrell said. “Others are more inquisitive, and say that, in their heart of hearts, they know marriage is between a man and a woman, and that there should be a mom and a dad in a family.”

Other booth workers mentioned a reported incident, earlier in the fair, when marriage amendment opponents surrounded the booth, apparently trying to keep others from getting near.

But Darrell said: “Every once in a while, there are some who are disruptive, but we try to tell everyone that we should love one another, even if we disagree, and we should all have a great fair.”

Dan and Karen Hawes of Robbinsdale signed in at the booth.

“I've always been a supporter,” Karen Hawes said. “I've got nothing against gays and lesbians, but I think marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

Vote No, marriage amendment

A few hundred yards from the Vote Yes spot is the Vote No booth, run by Minnesotans United for All Families.

Workers said they handed out 12,000 orange “Vote No” flyer/fans in the first two days of the fair, far exceeding expectations and depleting the supply. More were quickly made.

vote yes marriage amdt
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
At the Vote No on the Marriage Amendment booth, volunteer Cindy Nathan of Maplewood talked with Karen Bartig of Minneapolis, an opponent of the ballot measure.

“We're trying to capture the great energy of all the people stopping by and wanting to help,” said Kate Brickman, of Minnesotans United.

The most effective strategy at the booth, she said, comes from volunteers who share personal stories about family and friends who are unable to marry same-sex partners.

Cindy Nathan, a volunteer from Maplewood, said she has a gay son in the military.

“I hope he can come home to a state that will give him equal rights,” she said.

Andrew Shores and Miranda Hotvedt came to the booth saying they are already committed to voting no on the amendment and were looking for buttons and yard signs. They got buttons.

Vote Yes, voting amendment

A Vote Yes booth worker, Chuck Overton, said he's been a longtime election judge who has been hearing from voters for years that they should have to prove they are eligible before filling out a ballot.

“They come in with their ID cards ready and seem offended that they don't have to show it before voting,” he said.

voter id vote yes
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
People line up at the Protect My Vote, Vote Yes on Voter ID booth.

So he's working to get the amendment passed with the group renting the booth, which calls itself Protect My Vote.

Most who stop by the booth, near Wright and Underwood, already agree with the idea, he said.

One woman called out: “It's about time they start listening to us.”

It was Brenda Books of South St. Paul. She said she was referring to politicians, and that she wants them to know that “some of us want to see Voter ID passed.”

She added: “You have to show your ID for so many other things.”

As she walked away, someone in the booth called out: “Don't forget to vote.”

Vote No, voting amendment

Tucked between a kiosk for construction jobs and another one for certified electricians, the Vote No on Voter ID booth is located on the apron of AFL-CIO booth, at Cooper and Dan Patch.

vote no on voter id booth
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
The Vote No on Voter ID kiosk on the AFL-CIO plaza was staffed by John Rostad, left, Amy Barysch, center, and Nancy Newman.

They refer to the proposed amendment as Voter Restriction, rather than Voter ID. The anti-voting amendment efforts are coordinated by a coalition of groups called Our Vote Our Future.

Workers at the booth ask visitors to sign a card pledging to vote no and then stuff it into a small box. They say they empty the box several times a day.

There's an envelope for donations, too. Not many have been used. Volunteer Nancy Newman of Minneapolis said: “Maybe we should push those more.”

They said some fairgoers want to argue with them, using the standard “What's wrong with showing an ID? We show one for everything else.”

Newman said she's trying a new tack to sway voters, saying: “What would you do if you lost your driver's license or government-issued ID on the day before the election? You'd be disenfranchised.”

She and the others who were working the stand, John Rostad and Amy Barysch, said they have a new slogan, and said in unison: “Minnesota Nice; Vote No Twice.”

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Comments (10)

The pro-fraud booth certainly well placed.

Unions have long fought democratic voting in the workplace; it's no surprise they are hungry to spread their tactics to the general population.

It's also no surprise to hear of thuggery among leftist forces (there was a story in the City Pages this week about a vender that spit in the cup of a man because he was wearing a "Vote yes" button). It's what we have come to expect from the party of tolerance.

Blatantly insulting

Your remarks are getting more and more blatantly insulting (and I wonder how the make it to the light of day). "Pro-fraud?" An inaccurate term, to put it more than mildly. To put it honestly, a lie in a single word. "Thuggery among leftist forces?" Give me a break. One person spitting in a cup doesn't equate to thuggery nor does it speak of "leftist forces." On the other hand, if it does, clearly there exists "thuggery among rightist forces" as evidenced by your constant name-calling.

That's a broad brush being wielded

by a very narrow mind, Mr. Swift.

Union elections are an exercise in majority rule. One can better argue that those who champion "right t0 work" laws are those opposed to democracy in the workplace. Assuming that the alleged "spitter" is from "among leftist forces" shows only your bias. Libertarians and, gasp, political conservatives also oppose the marriage amendment.

"Union elections are an exercise in majority rule."

Even if that were true James, it's not what unions want. Unions are fighting for "card check off" in lieu of the sanctity and security of a democratic vote. It's much harder to tell a union thug "no" face to face than it is to do so in a secure voting booth.

I'm sorry if you feel slighted Rachel, but I just can't think of a better way to describe people who object to ensuring the integrity of our franchise.

Good, balanced, article

And it is nice to hear that in general people have been well behaved. On my visit to the fair Sunday, around 6pm when it was extremely crowed, I saw no bad behavior.

Unfortunately, the first comment contains the usual kind of incendiary rhetoric that is intended to inflame emotions on these questions...

"pro-fraud booth"

Really. Are we to say that because our opponents want voting rights supported that they are "pro-fraud." This is a pretty pathetic characterization.

And generalizing on the basis of a bad incident - allegedly - by an opponent of the amendments as evidence of "thuggery among leftist forces" and "what we've come to expect from the party of tolerance" is sad indeed. Must we really be reduced to counting bad incidents on both sides of the fence to settle this matter?

And of course we have to have a little gratuitous union bashing... The claim is made that the unions fight democratic voting? In fact the unions espouse the widest possible availability of voting rights to citizens. That is their right in a democracy.

Always ignore Tom Swift

Tom Swift is a known troll. He is intolerant of everyone - including those who agree with him - and he mostly just ignites flames and fans their fires. He's been doing this for years.

A good article

Although I have strong belief against the amendments, I support and celebrate my fellow Minnesotans' right to free speech, especially when it's conducted in such a civil way.

I was interviewed by Mr Kimball

About 90% of people who came to our booth were in flavor. The people who were against it could never give a valid reason. For example, a person said "if there were 1/2 of 1%, which were fraudelant voters, what's the big deal". I had to remind him that Franken 'won' by approx. 200 votes, so that hIS thought was of no value.
I had others who thought that people from others countries living here should be able to vote. I had to remind them of the US Constitution.

The next day, I heard from the Lady in charge of our booth that the Vote No crowd [with vote no T-shirts] came and tried to talk the people in our lines to vote NO.
We guessed nobody must be at their booth. Just study the picture of their booth [above] and that is your answer. WE WERE CONSTANTLY BUSY. I AM CONFIDENT THAT VOTE YES WILL EASILY WIN

Picture IDs are getting harder to obtain

Howard, I have three stories to tell you about ID's. First involves a student transitioning from college life to a career. As a student, he absentee voted here in MN. Now to get recognized as a resident in another state, he needs to get a driver's license. He needs proof of residence - a lease or utility bill. His name is not on either the lease or the utility bill as one roommate has all of that in his name. No proof - no residency, no state issued ID. This all needs to be accomplished months in advance of voting.

Another involves a friend's mom who now lives with them full time after moving from another state. The MN DMV needed more than a passport and birth certificate. She needed legal proof of her name changes from birth and marriages to her current last name. Two separate trips to the DMV yielded no ID.

Another is an older story involving a friend who who went to school in WI after living in MN. He got a WI license on which they mis-spelled his name. His old MN driver's license, his WI license and passport were not enough to get a new license.

For people who move more frequently - namely the poor and the young - this is a big deal and will restrict their ability to vote in a convenient way. You might ask yourself about your own motives - preventing fraud or preventing voting by people who might not agree with more conservative principles.

Government issued ID

Voting is a right in the US and should not be encumbered and there is very little voter fraud in the US. Yes, we need a government issued ID to many things in life but those rights (driving for example) can be taken away for well founded reasons. Voting can only be removed for extreme criminal behavior or removal of citizenship. I live in a world that requires constant use of ID and I always worry about loosing or forgetting it. It is a self imposed burden but I would not impose it on those who do not do air travel or do work for the federal government.