A proposed amendment to the state constitution on the ballot this November is dividing Minnesotans and rallying members of the Carleton community in opposition.
Opponents describe the amendment, which would require voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls, as a form of “voter restriction,” and many Carleton students fear it could prevent them from voting in Northfield.
“My understanding is that students would not be able to use Carleton’s address to get an ID because it belongs to a business, not a residence,” said Michael McClellan ‘13, president of the Carleton Student Association. “This would mean that voting here would be an onerous process, which would push students to vote absentee or not at all.”
The CSA Senate passed a resolution last week proposed by Matt Weinstein ‘14, which urges the community to work to defeat an amendment that “restricts equal participation by all classes, races, and ages of people in elections.”
The CSA also passed a resolution opposing another ballot measure this year, which would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“The CSA Senate is here to protect student interests of all kinds,” McClellan said, “and sometimes that means making a stand against legislation that will directly harm the student experience at Carleton.”
So far, 33 states have passed laws requiring some form of identification for voters; currently none is required in Minnesota. In recent years a nationwide push for voter ID laws has emerged.
Amendment supporters claim that the current system is rife with “inaccuracies and abuse” in the words of Minnesota Majority.
Describing voter ID as “common sense”, the Vote Yes campaign believes that requiring ID will prevent voter fraud and increase Minnesotans’ faith in the integrity of the political process.
But its opponents consider the amendment to be a solution in search of a problem. They point to the fact that nobody has ever been convicted of impersonating another voter in Minnesota.
“We have remarkably good voting laws…Minnesota has always encouraged participation,” said Erik Anderson ‘13, a leader of the Carleton Democrats who is campaigning against the law. He claimed that two recent elections, the 2010 gubernatorial election won by Democrat Mark Dayton and the 2008 U.S. Senate election won by Democrat Al Franken have been decided by recounts in which ballots were scrutinized and in which no significant fraud was found.
The issue on the ballot would amend the constitution to require voters to present ID and to provide free ID to eligible voters, which would be paid for by the state. The proposal would also allows voters who do not have ID on Election Day to cast “provisional ballots,” which would not be counted until the voters’ eligibility was verified. Our Vote Our Future, the campaign against the amendment, has described this as overly complicated and claims that it forces voters to “cast votes that may never be counted.”
The impact on Carleton students is unclear; if the amendment were passed the specifics of what sort of ID would be acceptable would still have to be worked out by the legislature.
The Star Tribune reports that some states with similar laws have refused to recognize student IDs at the polls, and getting the required ID might involve steps that would cause a decrease in participation, even if the IDs were free.
It is also uncertain which address students could use to get IDs.
“There’s some chance of it working,” Anderson acknowledged, “but it would require a big effort” from activists and opponents of voter restriction.
Travis Nordgaard ‘13, of the Carleton Conservative Union, said he is leaning against the amendment but noted that getting a photo ID under the proposed law would carry no monetary cost and that the implications for students may not ultimately be as bad as opponents claim.
“Some conservatives think the barriers are not as big as people are making them out to be,” Nordgaard said.
Nevertheless, he shares the same misgiving about the amendment that drives many of its opponents: “There’s no hard evidence that voter fraud is a real issue…it’s better to err on the side of safety.”
Liberal organizations in particular have accused pro-ID organizations of partisanship, claiming that voters who don’t have ID tend to be members of groups that tend to vote Democratic and that the ID laws are designed to suppress Democratic turnout.
In August a federal court struck down a voter ID law in Texas, which was described as the strictest in the nation, because it claimed the law would disproportionately affect poor and minority voters. (A legal challenge to the Minnesota amendment by liberal groups was thrown out of court.)
The Minnesota amendment is particularly vulnerable to these sorts of criticisms because of its close association with the Republican-controlled state legislature. The legislature passed a voter ID law that was vetoed by Gov. Dayton; a vote in the State Senate that bypassed Dayton and put the issue in the voters’ hands was strictly along party lines.
“It’s really hard to get away from the blatantly partisan tint that this has,” Anderson said. He accused Minnesota Republicans of playing political games, claiming, “We see what happens when Republicans get control of both houses of the legislature.”
Nordgaard, for his part, echoed the idea that the amendment may be more of a political initiative than a response to a legitimate problem. Voter ID may be in Republicans’ best political interests, he said, but “as a conservative, I don’t want to win because we’ve suppressed votes, I want to win because we’re right.”
The Carleton Democrats’ phone banking activities, which are being conducted in conjunction with the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have included polling voters on their reactions to the voter ID amendment, which Anderson said is “one of the few things we persuade people on.”
TakeAction Minnesota, a liberal advocacy group, is also beginning to phone bank and go door to door to inform voters about the amendment.
Fadi Hakim ‘13, a leader in TakeAction Minnesota’s effort, explained that the campaign is a “dispersed” activity at Carleton; TakeAction Minnesota, the Carleton Democrats, CarlPAC and other groups have so far run separate campaigns against the amendment, providing students with many opportunities for activism. A purportedly nonpartisan rally against voter ID is also in the works, Anderson said.
Voting, however, seems to be the most concrete action the community can take.
“If students want to prevent this amendment from getting passed, the best way is to get out there and vote against it while it’s still easy for them to do so,” McClellan said.