Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Voter ID's Consequences

At the request of Council Member Glidden and me, our superb City Clerk and Elections staff have prepared a very detailed report on the potential impacts of the Voter ID Constitutional amendment.  I say "potential" because the actual ballot language is extremely vague, and the Legislature would have to put together the actual rules that  election administrators would have to follow.

After reading the report it is clear that this would be a major step backgrounds for voting rights in Minnesota. If this amendment passes it will be disastrous for democracy in Minnesota, for election administration, and for local governments.  It is not a "Voter ID" initiative, but a voter suppression initiative.  The key impact will be to make it harder for Minnesotans - especially the most vulnerable Minnesotans, like people in nursing homes, young people, and the poor - to vote.

I encourage you to read the report, but here are some of the key concerns that it raises.

1.  Minnesota would go from First to Worst on voting.  Minnesotans rightly pride ourselves on having nation-leading voter turnout.  This amendment would change that, making it harder to vote, less likely that many people would vote and reducing voter turnout.

While the amendment's proponents can accurately point to thirty other states that have adopted Voter ID requirements, that argument is extremely misleading for one key reason: the proposed Minnesota amendment is more stringent (that is, more anti-democratic) than any that has been adopted in any other state.

Here's why.  As you can see starting on page 5 of the report, nineteen of the thirty states with Voter ID requirements do not require a voter to show a photo ID.  Of the remaining eleven, only six have the sorts of strict requirements that this amendment would creat in Minnesota.  That includes making government-issued IDs the only sort that voters can use - no private university or college IDs, for instance.

But this amendment would go one large, terrible step further.  In addition to requiring that the government-issued ID feature a voter's name and picture, Minnesota would also require that the ID list the voter's address.  If you've moved recently and haven't yet gotten your address changed on your license, too bad.  Vote in your old precinct or don't vote.

2.  It will scrap vouching and same-day registration.  In addition to the above changes to make voting more difficult, the proposed amendment would do away with vouching and same day registration.  States with same-day registration have ten to seventeen percent higher voter turnout than states without it.  Same-day registration accounts for between five and ten percent of the votes cast in typical Minnesota elections.  The amendment would replace these good systems that are working just fine, and...

3.  It will create a terrible new Provisional Ballot system.  Rather than allowing people to register same-day or have someone vouch for them, people without valid photo IDs would have to vote by provisional ballot.  They would then have to show up, in person, within a short window of time  after an election, to show a photo ID.  If they fail to do so, their vote would not count.  This is extremely important: what are the chances that someone without a valid photo ID showing their current address on election day will be able to get one within a few days of the election?  Slim to none.

According to a 2009 Pew study, thirty percent of provisional ballots are never counted.  Provisional ballots are clearly a way to throw out about a third of the votes that would be cast and counted under same-day registration.

And that's not the only problem with provisional balloting.  In close elections like the 2010 Gubernatorial race or 2008 Senate race, and in ranked choice elections in Minneapolis, elections administrators will have no choice but to wait until the time for voters who cast provisional ballots to make their votes "real" has expired, before even preliminary elections results can be shared.  That means days of waiting for close races to be called.

4.  It will make absentee voting harder.  The ballot language requires "all voters" to show a photo ID, meaning that, as the report states, "military and civilian absentee voters, voters with religious objections to being photographed, voters with disabilities, and voters who are residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities" would have to provide photo ID, without exceptions.  How would this work?  For example, how could a military absentee voter on assignment in Afghanistan show a photo ID?  It's unclear, and would have to be worked out by a future Legislature.  But the language on the ballot clearly indicates that exempting certain classes of voters from this onerous requirement will not be possible.

 5. It's an unfunded mandate.  It's ironic that this amendment was put forward by politicians who claim to oppose wasteful government spending, because it will dramatically increase the costs to run all elections in Minnesota.  Just some of the likely new costs higlighted in the report:
  • At least one additional election judge in each precinct to run the provisional ballot system.
  • More space in polling places - and completely segregated, separate space - for the provisional ballot system.
  • Staff to run the provisional voting system after elections.
  • Additional training for all election judges on provisional balloting, photo IDs, and the removal of vouching and same-day registration as options for voters.
  • A massive public education campaign to ensure that voters understand and are ready to comply with the new requirements - which could leave them disenfranchised if they aren't aware of them.  (The State of Georgia was required by the courts to do much more voter education than they had originally planned, for exactly this reason.) 

The Voter ID bill that passed the Legislature but was vetoed by the Governor included a state appropriation that, in my view, would be nowhere enough to implement this major change.  (Also, ironically, much of the funding was lifted from federal Help America Vote Act funds, despite the fact that this initiative is clearly not designed to "help" Minnesotans vote, but make it harder for us to vote.)  It's also clear that this requirement would have ongoing expenses that would be passed down to local units of government.

It is impossible to know how much of a burden this amendment would place on Minneapolis taxpayers, but it is likely to be significant.

5.  The timeline is impossibly tight.  If this amendment passes, the Legislature will have to pass, and the Governor will have to sign, rules for implementing the new requirements.  The many questions raised by the vagueness of the ballot language (how do we deal with absentee votes?  what types of IDs can be considered "government-issued"?  etc.) will have to be answered.  It is unclear how long this will take, but it could take a very long time.

The best-case scenario is that Minneapolis Elections staff would have five months in which to implement this sweeping change to our voting system.  The worst case scenario is that they would have four weeks.  Four weeks in which to scrap the vouching and same-day registration systems, to create from scratch a whole new provisional voting system, to have their work vetted by the Secretary of State's office, to educate election judges, candidates, campaigns and the general public... all while also preparing for our second-ever ranked choice voting election.

But other cities that do not use RCV would actually have it worse, in one important way, because they would have to use the current system for their primary elections in August, and switch to a completely new system for the general election.

This is a recipe for chaos, and disenfranchising voters.  Again, it's clear that that's the point.

There are two additional problems with this proposed amendment not raised by the Clerk's report that I want to call out.

First, as you can read in the Star Tribune's article on the Minnesota Supreme Court's hearing earlier this week, it's clear that the Legislature's ballot language does not accurately tell voters what the Constitutional amendment would actually do.  It doesn't say it's scrapping same-day registration and vouching.  The Legislature's ballot language asks whether voters should have to show "valid" identification, but the actual Constitutional amendment would require "government-issued" identification.  Those are not the same thing, and the League of Women Voters have proven that the architects of this amendment were reminded of that fact repeatedly, but still put this misleading ballot language forward. 

Second, it is vital to remember that this Constitutional amendment is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist.  The proponents of this massive push to suppress and disenfranchise Minnesota voters cannot provide any evidence of widespread voter fraud in Minnesota.  This is worse than a solution in search of a problem: it's a solution to a "problem" that its proponents will not honestly admit, in public, is their real motivator.  The "problem" that they're looking to solve is that too many people who tend to vote for Democrats and Greens - African Americans, college students, recent immigrants, poor people and others - are exercising their legal right to vote.  It would be better for conservatives if some of these people's votes could be legally torn up and thrown out.  That's the actual purpose of this amendment. 

Intriguingly, at least one Republican in the US has honestly (though perhaps accidentally) stated the real purpose of these Voter ID laws.  Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was quoted as saying that their new Voter ID law (which, again, is less stringent than what is proposed for Minnesota) is "going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."  It's not about protecting against fraud, it's about turning away enough legal voters to win elections.

I'm hoping that in light of these facts, the Court will prevent this misleading ballot question from being on this fall's ballot.  If not, I will be voting no, and urging Second Ward residents to join me in voting no.


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