Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Keep our Lead on Voting Rights

September 25, 2012 By Dave Mindeman, Hindsight Community Fellow

Minnesota, like almost no other state, has tried to widen access to voting. We have an enviable voter participation track record. If an eligible person wants to vote, Minnesota finds a way to make it work—legally and easily.

Instead of holding up our state as a model for the country, Minnesota conservatives have jumped on a national bandwagon to restrict voting rights, hoping, I believe, to reduce that participation record.

Just look at the statistics. When you’re a national leader, why would you want to follow the lower turnout trend?

We already know a photo ID Amendment could erect an insurmountable barrier for some voters. What we can’t determine until the measure is approved and legislature finalizes new voting rules is how wide that barrier will stretch. It could obstruct mail-in ballots and same day registration, which according to University of Minnesota political scientists “has contributed to Minnesota’s strong voter participation, accounting for 15 percent to nearly 21 percent of the state’s turnout.”

States with such measures tend to lead the country in voter turnout, Eric Ostermeier and Lawrence Jacobs concluded

Throughout history people all over the world have fought and died to have a say in how they are governed. We’re seeing it now in the Middle East.

American’s experiment in voting has had shaky roots. Too often groups seeking power have been less concerned about increasing participation and more concerned about getting the "right people" to the polls. Our past is full of minority groups having to fight for a simple guaranteed right to vote. Non-property owners, women, African-Americans, and minorities in general each had to petition their democratic government for a voting guarantee that, in theory, is the very cornerstone of democratic government.
With every successful step forward, we have people in power pushing us one step backward.

This new threat to "free and proper exercise" has been forming across the land under a false guise of "voting integrity.” With no evidence, the accusations get louder and louder via innuendo and hypothetical scenarios. This threat has a lack of validity because of its partisan nature.

If we had serious problems with how we conduct elections, then recounts and examinations would certainly uncover them, and there would be bi-partisan consensus on the need to fix a theoretically broken system. But investigations have led to nothing of any significance and the partisan nature increases in intensity.

Granted, we need to have an orderly election system. A system that can keep track of who is eligible to vote and who is not. We have good systems in place for the most part—underfunded to be sure, but systems that are worthy of our respect, not our derision.

Rather than making new rules, new requirements, and new obstructions, shouldn't our focus be on making voting the easiest and most accommodating part of our participatory democracy?
This new aura of restricting participation comes despite some of the most intensive electoral scrutiny in any state's history. The 2008 Franken-Coleman election was so close as to put a strain on state election law. Every recourse allowed by those laws was taken and the entire system put under enormous, microscopic examination. In the end, the system was found to work precisely as intended, even with the enormous stakes involved in the final outcome.

In 2010, our gubernatorial election was under similar scrutiny and although the margins were not as small, the end result deemed the system just as effective.
However, none of that was rewarded. Rather the system was challenged yet again, even though no evidence of abuse or incompetence was found anywhere. A party intent on partisan outcomes formulated a new law to void years of work that has produced a nation-leading election system with annual high turnouts and recognition on ease of use.

Conservative methodology has gone so far as to push this into a Constitutional amendment process so that they can bypass the system of governmental checks and balances and make their partisan wishes the law of the land.

Voting is supposed to be simple—giving people the ability to participate in their government. Those elected to govern are supposed to never fear the will of the electorate. To never fear the ones who are supposed to have a final say.

We should never allow our employees (our elected officials) to decide who can be part of the ultimate decision making process. Voting laws, in a democratic society, are meant to remove obstacles from this process, not add to them.

Photo ID's misguided restrictions, are still restrictions. The burden of proof should be on those who would desire more obstacles. The compelling reasons for finding Photo ID necessary must come from those who want to force voters out of the booth.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.