It is – unfortunately – official. The Minnesota Legislature’s Republican majority voted to place yet another issue on the ballot in next November’s election.
This one, if approved by voters, will make it mandatory for anyone who goes to vote to have a government-issued photo identification card. If approved by voters, the requirement would become a constitutional amendment. The other issue, which if approved would also become a constitutional amendment, is a ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
What’s unfortunate is both proposed amendments are unnecessary and/or mean-spirited, if not unconstitutional to begin with. How many more needless proposed amendments will this legislature cook up before election time rolls around? There is virtually no evidence whatsoever that voting fraud is a wide-ranging problem, and it is certain the few cases of voter fraud that may exist now will continue – ID or not. Anybody dumb and desperate enough to commit voter fraud is probably also crooked enough to doctor a fake ID In addition, same-sex marriage is already not legal in Minnesota.
Those without official IDs tend to be the elderly, the very poor, ethnic minorities, non-drivers, the disabled and students. Isn’t it interesting those groups of people tend to vote “Democrat” rather than “Republican?” Even the widely respected League of Women Voters has called this proposed amendment an effort at voter suppression. Another name for that is voter disenfranchisement. Of course that’s difficult to prove, and no doubt there are many with integrity and good intentions who truly believe this amendment would enhance the democratic process.
But, still, this proposed amendment has an ugly taint of the past. Afro-Americans in the Jim Crow South were repeatedly disenfranchised because of devious roadblocks to voting, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and all forms of intimidation. It took the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 to put an end to those inexcusable hurdles.
This amendment is likely to pass Nov. 6. That is because polls show most Minnesotans agree there should be a voter ID requirement. Most of those people, probably, have not thought about issues of disenfranchisement, including what will become an end to election-day registration. People without IDs will still be allowed to vote by using provisional ballots, but for those ballots to count, the voter must return with a proper ID within a given length of time. In other words, another voting hurdle.
If this amendment passes, there will have to be an ambitious statewide voter ID effort to help every potential voter obtain an ID. The state will have to pay for the new IDs. This voter-ID amendment sounds “reasonable” at first. But keep thinking about it, and it becomes more onerous than reasonable.
To many people, a ban on same-sex marriage may also sound “reasonable,” too, since people have passionate disagreements about the issue and so why not have the majority decide? But it is not reasonable when one considers one of its ramifications is to make second-class citizens out of many state residents.
This is a democracy, so why not let voters decide such issues through constitutional amendments? The answer is simple: There are some human-rights issues that should not be subjected to an often politicized whim of “majority rules.”
Both of these amendments, if passed, would undermine, at least to some degree, two bedrock freedoms – universal enfranchisement and the legal rights of all people in their pursuit of happiness through marriage.
America is great because of its long struggles to make all people – men and women – free and equal under the law. This is a country that is supposed to honor and respect all good people, not just some. If these amendments pass, let us hope they will someday be over-ruled by the Minnesota Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Minnesota Legislature, so puffed up with partisan bullyism, should quit wasting its time in trying to fix what is not broken.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.