Should voters be required to have a specific type of photo ID in order to vote in Minnesota? Ben Hellerstein ’12, co-chair of Carleton’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), strongly believes that the answer is no. He recently travelled to the Minnesota state capitol to argue against the new SF049 bill that would change voting practices and make it difficult for college students to vote.
Minnesota’s current legislation allows for same-day registration which means that voters can register on Election Day. Colleges submit lists of their current students, so that students can show their driver’s license or campus photo ID when they register.
However, the new bill would require students to hold an official, government-issued photo ID with a current, permanent address to be able to register to vote. This means students’ mailing address and their specific dorm, which changes annually. “It’s really problematic for college students,” said Hellerstein “[Students] would need a new Minnesota license every year.” The law would make it impossible for college students – in or out of state – to vote in Minnesota elections.
Addressing the Senate, Hellerstein said, “I chose to come to Minnesota because it is such a welcoming and friendly place that invites people to get involved without putting up a lot of unnecessary barriers and obstacles.” Although the bill is intended to prevent voter fraud, there are very few fraud cases each year in Minnesota. The fraud cases consist of convicted felons trying to vote.
“How many instances of fraudulent voting will these bills prevent each year?” he asked. “A few. And yet, how many legitimate voters will be disenfranchised? Thousands. Maybe tens of thousands.”
Hellerstein further explained that the bill attempts to solve a nonexistent problem. “[The bill] is an attack on student participation in the democratic process,” he said. While college students would have a much more difficult time voting, convicted felons who have a current driver’s license would not necessarily be prevented from voting anyway. “The bill is trying to solve a nonexistent problem,” he says.
Forrest McKnight, the chair of the MPIRG’s Democracy Task Force at Carleton, agrees. “This issue hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should, especially when it comes to students, who will be one of the most impacted groups,” he explained. In addition to Hellerstein’s speech at the capitol, MPIRG is circulating a petition to Kelby Woodward, the state representative for Carleton’s area, asking him to oppose the bill. “Hopefully,” Hellerstein said, “Governor Dayton will veto the bill if it passes.” There is still an amendment process that could allow the bill to pass as an amendment in several years.
“These bills try to take away somebody’s ability to participate in the political process,” said Hellerstein. “It’s against the fundamental nature of democracy.”
MPIRG will be tabling in Sayles in the next few weeks in order to collect petition signatures.