Voter ID controversy offers a lesson in independent thinking
By Kat Katoski
Kat Katoski is a graduate student in the Masters of Political Advocacy and Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
I made a mistake. But let's start at the beginning.
I would categorize myself as your typical progressive — tax the rich, feed the poor and take care of the environment before it's too late. So when a recent school assignment required me to write an opinion piece on the proposed Minnesota voter ID amendment, the obvious first step was to learn what Democrats were saying because I would agree.
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Democrats were against voter ID. Simple enough.
Something else you should know about me — I enjoy challenges. I decided it would be a hoot to write from a Republican standpoint. I knew my classmates would be writing from a liberal perspective, so I figured I'd spice things up a bit.
Researching voter ID from a conservative perspective was all new to me. I doubted I would find even one argument that could hold up against the barrage of attacks Democrats were using against voter ID.
For example, Republicans were claiming that a photo ID requirement was necessary because of a significant threat of voter fraud. They're wrong. Minnesota's electoral process has been tested several times recently, in those delightful recounts. Out of nearly 3 million ballots cast in 2008, the fraud rate was .0009, resulting from felons' voting — an offense that a photo ID requirement would not prevent.
Another common conservative contention was more basic: Nowadays you need a photo ID for everything, so why not show one at the polls? But it turns out that not everyone has one. Approximately 40,000 Minnesotans currently lack a government-issued photo ID.
Then I discovered something I did not expect. The voter ID amendment includes funding to provide free state-issued identification cards to those 40,000 people.
And soon I found more. Indiana recently enacted a voter ID requirement, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, and witnessed record-breaking voter participation in its 2008 election.
One more thing about me — I love the show "Cops." While I was writing my opinion piece for school, a rerun happened to be playing in the background. The cameras followed as a policeman pulled over a woman doing 49 in a 30. The lady went berserk. Handing over her license and registration was the last thing she wanted to do. There was paper-tossing and cursing galore. But despite the theatrical performance, the woman realized that in order to continue on her way she would have to hand over her ID.
In that moment I concluded that even a self-proclaimed Democrat like me must, at the very least, consider voting yes to the voter ID amendment.
I had made a mistake. I was careless with my political beliefs. I'd come to rely on a disturbingly polarized system to form my opinions for me. This amendment gave me a greater understanding of identification than I could have ever imagined.
Truth be told, I'm still not sure which way I'll vote if the question makes it onto the ballot this November. But I can guarantee that I will never again let my political affiliation dictate my opinion without first taking a good, open-minded look at what both sides are saying.