By Mark Schultz
Recently, the Land Stewardship Project joined “Our Vote, Our Future,” a coalition of over 70 organizations working to oppose the voter restriction amendment to the state constitution that is to be put before Minnesota voters Nov. 6. Why is an organization whose mission is stewardship of the land speaking out on this issue?
There are several important reasons for taking this stand—as discussed by LSP’s State Policy Committee—which relate directly to the values and history of an organization dedicated to stewarding the environment.
Basic issue of democracy — people have to have a say
A good deal of LSP’s work as an organization has centered around the basic issue of democracy — that people directly affected need to have a say in the decisions related to their lives. It’s a foundation of LSP’s approach that people, not major corporations or lobbyist insiders, need to have the most say in how public policy is shaped and executed. It is through democratic action that we will create a food and farming system that is answerable to people, not corporations.
Our long-time work to preserve and utilize the power of local control in Minnesota is a great example of this basic principle being put into action. Local control is critical if people living in rural areas are to retain the democratic right to work through their townships and counties to restrict damaging developments like corporate-backed factory farms and frac sand mines
Simply said, LSP believes that in order to create a sustainable food and agriculture system, people must have a say. We oppose efforts to exclude people from the process of public decision-making. And that is what this badly-conceived amendment, if voted in, will do — whether intentionally or not.
Consider these facts:
• The Citizens for Election Integrity and the Minnesotan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance conducted an in-depth survey of county attorneys in Minnesota in 2010. They found that a photo ID system would be most effective at preventing voter impersonation. However, the survey also found that: “The results are clear — there was not one single conviction for voter impersonation. In fact, while there were investigations, there were no felony convictions of double voting, non-citizens voting, under-age voting, or voting outside of the jurisdiction.” If there ever was a case of a solution looking for a problem, this is it.
• If this amendment is adopted, 700,000 Minnesotans who were eligible to vote in 2010 would not be able to vote, as reported by the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. That includes voters who do not have a photo ID or who use Election Day registration. The amendment would also make it harder for veterans (many of whom use Veterans Administration IDs that don’t have a current address) and current military personnel who vote absentee, to vote. Now some rough figuring: If the amendment passes and there is an amazing response and 80 percent of these Minnesotans take the steps (and pay the costs) to become eligible, that would still disenfranchise 140,000 Minnesotans. The question is — to whose benefit is it to have so many fewer people vote in a democratic election?
• The voter restriction amendment was designed and orchestrated by the national “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC), a coalition of major corporations and their legislator allies. Voter restriction amendments have been introduced in 34 states since 2010. Again the question — which sector of society benefits from this kind of large-scale disenfranchisement of American voters?
• It’s important to consider exactly who these 700,000 eligible voters are who do not have a photo ID and who use Election Day registration. The segments of Minnesota’s population for whom this is most common are elderly Minnesotans, people of color, voters with disabilities, young people and the poorest Minnesotans. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, national studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo identification. That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters and students. We have certainly heard from LSP members about people they know who would be affected — an older parent or relative, a student who is moving frequently, a soldier overseas.
LSP’s work is based primarily in farming and rural communities. Rural communities include many elderly Minnesotans who often don’t have a photo ID since they don’t drive or need one, yet they have lived there for their entire lives. It is also the case that in rural communities, your home might be miles and miles from anyplace that offers a “government issued photo ID” that would be mandated by this proposed amendment. This voter ID amendment would make it more expensive and inconvenient for these people to vote where they have always cast their ballot.
But here’s the even larger point — all of us are hurt when we exclude people from the vote. We are stronger and better as a state and a nation when people have a say over the decisions that affect their lives. That’s why the U.S. Constitution and our state constitution have consistently been used to extend our rights, not to diminish them.
And as a state whose communities of color are growing, a voter restriction law that disproportionately disenfranchises people of color is unwise, unjust and anti-democratic. For the strongest and best solutions, we must all be in it together, no exceptions. We can’t afford to lose the voices of these growing segments of the population.
Finally, it’s clear the voter ID amendment would be a costly measure if adopted, with most of the costs placed on local governments. Various local and state agencies estimate these costs at $30 million to $50 million for start-up, with an additional $8 million to $10 million in annual operating costs. Rural counties have estimated the costs of mandated photo ID at hundreds of thousands of dollars per county; as high as $250 per voter in Minnesota’s Kittson County. This kind of burden on Minnesota’s townships and counties, and rural citizens, is unwarranted and unnecessary. Clearly, the backers of the proposed amendment missed this common sense concern in their haste to advance this new policy. Why put these extra costs on local communities when election officials and county attorneys have demonstrated there is not a problem? Again, what is the goal here?
As for the argument that photo IDs are now required for a lot of things, like boarding a plane, so why not for voting — the fact is this would drastically change our voting system and in the process make it so tens of thousands of people can’t exercise a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Boarding an airplane and casting a vote are two different things. Voting is simply the bedrock of American democracy.
Minnesota has one of the strongest records of high voter participation and clean elections in our nation. Close statewide elections and recounts in recent years have reinforced this fact. But this amendment, if passed, would taint our elections by the unjust exclusion of already under-represented people in our community.
The bottom line is this: Minnesota’s elderly, our communities of color, our students, our disabled, our poor, are not represented by the corporate lobbyists that flock to the Capitol or the big money donors that increasingly dominate our elections and are funding this push to restrict voting. To add to this problem by enacting a law that directly and adversely impacts the ability of Minnesotans from under-represented communities to vote is just wrong.
The barriers a mandatory photo ID system creates to voting, and the costs to all of us — financial and otherwise — of carrying out such an unfunded mandate, negatively affects everyone. And no one gains from this drastic change in our voting system but the powerful corporate interests that do not have the average Minnesotan’s best interest in mind. We urge LSP members and the rest of the people of the state to note NO on the Voter ID amendment Nov. 6. This isn’t just about casting a vote; it’s about having a say in the future of our land, farms and communities.
Mark Schultz is LSP’s Associate Director, Policy Program Director and Director of Programs.