Just days from now, Minnesotans will go to the polls and find contests for their State Senator and Representative, a U.S. Senator and the President on the ballot. And they will also find two incredibly important questions on the back of their ballot: proposed constitutional amendments that have the potential to cause harm to Minnesota's reputation as both a welcoming place and a state that consistently sets the national standard for voter participation.
Most Minnesotans are justifiably proud to live in a tolerant, educated and prosperous state that is accustomed to leading the way in business and technological innovation, vibrant arts and cultural opportunities, and strong civic health. Minnesota has been at the forefront over the last century in winning rights for women, working people and the disadvantaged, and expanding civil rights and voter participation.
The all in this together" mindset runs deep. Minnesota is one of the few states that never outlawed interracial marriage, even in the 19th century. And in the early 1970s, we were one of the first states to allow election-day registration and a simple process of oath-by-signature to exercise the most fundamental right of democracy. This, along with other policies enacted to remove barriers, led to our perennial status as one of the top states in the nation in voter turnout and election integrity.
So understand this, once and for all: We will do great damage to our brand and our reputation if we approve either one of these constitutional amendments on the ballot.
The “Voter ID” amendment (more accurately referred to by its opposition as “Voter Restriction”) imposes a completely unnecessary barrier to voting that likely will disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in order to root out a tiny percentage of ineligible persons who vote – never mind that there is absolutely no evidence of an actual voter impersonation problem in our elections.
The other amendment would cast in constitutional stone a second-class status for many of our friends and loved ones. It dictates that they will indefinitely be banned in Minnesota from enjoying the benefits of marriage – a civil right if there ever was one – if they happen to be of the same gender.
From a job-creating, economic growth standpoint, there would be no benefit and indeed, likely some harm should the marriage-limiting amendment pass. It has generated a tsunami of opposition from business leaders like former Medtronic CEO Bill George, Carlson Companies leader Marilyn Carlson Nelson, and RBC Wealth Management CEO John Taft. Locally-based corporations opposing the amendment include General Mills, Thomson Reuters, Capella University and St. Jude Medical, and the list continues to grow.
States and regions perceived as anti-gay tend not to be economic super-achievers. The states and metropolitan regions that compete with us for that status already are moving ahead in recognizing and welcoming same-sex couples and families.
The Voter Restriction amendment sends a terrible message to a broad spectrum of voters – the oldest, the youngest, the poorest, the newest, and to the homeless – many of whom are veterans. State analysts have estimated that 144,000 Minnesotans who are eligible to vote do not currently have a valid photo ID as required by the amendment, and those voters listed above would be disproportionately affected.
The amendment would create a brand new (and still undefined) system of “provisional ballots” for those who lack the required ID, putting the onus on the voter to prove their eligibility. And that creates a whole new realm of complexity and uncertainty likely to require further legislative debate and extended legal challenges if the amendment passes.
Swearing under threat of felony prosecution that you are legally eligible to vote and live in the precinct in which you are voting has worked remarkably well for Minnesota. It’s an honor system, but one in which plenty of legal checks and balances exist, and allegations of fraud can be quickly investigated.
Fact: There is no systematic fraud or abuse. Fact: There is no significant problem with our election system. Fact: We will deny or discourage voting by tens of thousands of voters in order to catch a handful of scofflaws and ineligible voters every year.
Both the marriage and voter restriction amendments are cleverly worded and marketed to appear to be protecting us from something, pandering to popular and unfounded fears of those who are not quite like the “rest of us.” We can all do better than that. On November 6th, vote NO, twice