Column: Voter ID amendment may disenfranchise Minnesota votersMinnesota's proposed voter ID amendment comes after Republican legislative efforts to enact similar requirements were vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton, and has drawn intense criticism from many Duluth city officials and local organizations.
By: Reyna Crow, For the Budgeteer News
This November, Duluthians and other Minnesota voters will be asked to answer yes or no to the following question: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”
The proposed voter ID amendment comes after Republican legislative efforts to enact similar requirements were vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton, and has drawn intense criticism from many Duluth city officials and local organizations.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness and City Councilor Sharla Gardner were among those who spoke at a rally on Thursday, Sept. 13 to address claims by amendment supporters that the amendment is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Gardner reminded those in attendance that the Duluth City Council passed a resolution in opposition to the amendment in 2011 and said that election fraud in Minnesota is “so rare that it is virtually nonexistent.” Gardner argued that the amendment would essentially impose “a disguised poll tax” likely to disproportionately affect citizens with disabilities, those in the military, students, the elderly and others who may not have identification that would be valid for voting, should the amendment pass.
The provision that the state provide free photo identification to eligible voters doesn’t address all of the barriers to obtaining acceptable photo identification, according to Churches United in Ministry intern Elaynie Johnson. “We know this will directly impact the people we serve.” Johnson added that “Homelessness is not easy,” and that people without stable addresses, such as area resident Craig Eckhoff who told rally attendees that he “sets up camp wherever he can,” may experience significant burdens in accessing even free photo IDs that will likely lead to reduced voter participation among these populations. Native Americans also are potentially affected. Tribal member Martha Marceau said at the rally that if the amendment passes and she can’t use her tribal ID to vote, that will tell her her nation means nothing.
Duluth city council president Dan Hartman believes that the negative impact on voter turnout among certain demographics of the population will be so severe that he refers to the amendment as a “voter suppression amendment” that “will limit the number of people who can vote.”
According to Hartman, there have been a little more than 100 convictions statewide for voter fraud, mostly involving felons. Hartman goes on to note that since a photo ID doesn’t tell anyone if the holder is a felon, the amendment would not address that issue.
“Protect My Vote,” an organization in favor of the amendment, disputes that number, reporting on its website that “Minnesota now leads the nation in convictions for voter fraud, with 200 recent convictions of ineligible voters.” A spokesperson for “Protect Our Vote” could not be reached for comment by press time.
While Gardner estimated it would cost Minnesota taxpayers $35 million to implement a voter ID program, it is not currently possible to determine what the costs would be to either the city of Duluth or St. Louis county, since the specific means by which such a program would be implemented remains, according to City Councilor Patrick Boyle, “vague in direction and unclear.” If the amendment passes, it will be up to the legislature to determine how to implement the voter ID program. Congressman Chip Craavack’s Duluth office declined comment, as the amendment is a state, as opposed to a federal, issue.
It is hard to object to preventing voting fraud in and of itself, and those who already have photo ID with a current address may not experience significant barriers to voting if this amendment passes. However, the amendment’s wording gives little indication of its potential effects. For those already on the margins of our community, any additional burdens we place between them and the ballot box will clearly result in some degree of disenfranchisement and, as Hartman puts it, regardless of party “Americans are against voter disenfranchisement.”
Furthermore, since taxpayers cannot afford the obligation to design and implement a program of presently undetermined cost to solve a problem that doesn’t clearly exist, Duluth voters should vote no on the proposed voter ID amendment.
Duluthian Reyna Crow has a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin.