Suppressing Votes of People with Disabilities
What if all the residents in your city faced unnecessary requirements that prevented them from exercising their right to vote? What if all citizens in your entire county faced hurdles that kept them from getting to the polls on Election Day? Proposals being debated this session to amend the constitution and require a photo ID for Minnesotans to vote could create just such a barrier for thousands of our citizens.
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation to require every voter to present a state-approved photo ID before casting a ballot. Gov. Dayton vetoed this bill, so voter ID proponents are adopting a new strategy -- amending the Minnesota Constitution. Bills introduced so far to do that are HF 1597 and HF 1662 (both authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer), SF 1577 (authored by Sen. Scott Newman), SF 1578 (authored by Sen. Al DeKruif), and SF 1659 (authored by Sen. Joe Gimse). If a majority in both houses passes one of these proposals, the measure would go on the ballot for the 2012 elections for voters to decide. The Governor cannot veto proposed amendments once they pass the Legislature.
People with disabilities are one of several groups in our society that are less likely to have an ID. Ten percent of voters with disabilities do not have a photo ID, according to the League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV-MN). This would mean that as many as 27,000 Minnesotans with disabilities would have to overcome barriers to vote, based on conservative estimates from figures in the 2009 American Community Survey. The figure of 27,000 equals the entire population of Fridley, Minnesota or all of the residents in Le Sueur County.
Voter ID could impose costs on people with disabilities, even if the state provides the IDs themselves at no cost. Getting a photo ID can mean paying for a copy of one’s birth certificate; in Minnesota, that equals $26. Roberta Blomster, a self-advocate who lives in Anoka County and is a member of one of our affiliated chapters, The Arc Greater Twin Cities, described barriers that people with disabilities would face during her testimony at a Minnesota Senate hearing on SF 1577 on February 1, 2012:
“…[A]dults with disabilities are having the hardest time with getting and/or keeping jobs during this tough economic time….You are expecting us to pay for supporting documents needed for the Voter ID, but if we are not working, then we won’t have the money for the supporting documents such as a birth certificate. Another [problem] is transportation. How can people with disabilities get to the places that would administer Voter ID if they don’t drive themselves and they don’t have other transportation to fall back on like their family members, Metro Mobility, etc.?”
Voter ID may sound reasonable, since an ID is required for important activities such as driving a car, cashing a check, or buying liquor. These activities, however, are not basic rights. Voting, on the other hand, IS a fundamental right, protected in law, and central to everyone’s participation in our democracy.
Minnesota elections have been virtually free of fraud. In 2006, there were six alleged cases of non-citizens voting out of 2,202,937 votes cast. In 2008, there were seven people who were accused of impersonating other voters out of 2,921,498 votes cast; none of the seven was convicted. Lawyers for both candidates in the 2008 U.S. Senate recount found no instances of voter fraud.
For decades, disability advocates like The Arc Minnesota have fought to bring people with disabilities out of the shadows and into our communities. People with disabilities want to be involved in our cities and towns and have a say in their lives. Voter ID laws hinder their ability to have a voice in deciding who their leaders will be, and can therefore silence that voice in decisions that affect them.
Roberta Blomster summed up our concerns about Voter ID well in her Senate testimony: “People with disabilities will be truly disenfranchised by this. You will be turning voting from a right to a privilege, and that is what scares the disability community.” If such laws are approved in Minnesota, they will suppress voting, not increase the integrity of our electoral system and procedures. Minnesota legislators should oppose any voter ID bills introduced this session.
Steve Larson is The Arc Minnesota’s Senior Policy Director. The Arc Minnesota is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.