Campaigns over voter ID amendment ramp up

Caucus straw polls
Henry Stachyra Jr. waits for caucus participants at Rutherford Elementary School in Stillwater, Minn. Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. A voter identification scanning systems was being tested at the Stillwater site.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Now that the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that a proposed constitutional amendment calling for voters to present ID at the polls on the November ballot, groups for and against it are ramping up their campaigns to win voters.

Supporters of the proposed requirement point to public opinion surveys that have consistently shown it has strong support. Opponents are trying to convince voters it could disenfranchise some Minnesotans and that there is scant evidence of voter fraud.

One visible reminder of the amendment battle already underway is a simple billboard along Interstate 94 near Albertville, Minn., with a stunning proclamation: Minnesota is "number one" for voter fraud.

But that message is simply not true, said Joe Mansky, elections director for Ramsey County.

"I think the proposition that Minnesota leads the country in voter fraud is laughable," Manksy said. "If anything, we lead the country in successful prosecutions."

But Dan McGrath, chairman of the pro-amendment effort called Protect My Vote, stands by the billboard's claim. He points to roughly 200 ineligible voting convictions stemming from the 2008 election.

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"Statistically, Minnesota has had more convictions for voter fraud from a single election than any other state has had in the last 50 years," McGrath said. "So, that puts us on top."

Rally against voter ID
About 200 people marched through South Minneapolis on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, in opposition of a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
MPR Photo/Conrad Wilson

McGrath is in charge of spreading a message that voter ID is needed in Minnesota to improve election integrity. The groups that support voter ID include Minnesota Majority, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, the Minnesota Freedom Council, the Minnesota North Star Tea Party Patriots and others.

Polls have shown widespread support for a voter ID requirement. But McGrath said he's not taking anything for granted. That's why he says he's busy raising money to run TV ads.

"There are 88 organizations in Minnesota that are aligned against voter ID, and they're going to spend a lot of money trying to convince people that it's a bad idea," he said. "So we have to counter that message with the facts about voter ID, and why it's a good thing for Minnesota's election system."

Voter ID opponents list about 70 organizations under the umbrella campaign initiative called "Our Vote Our Future." They include a spectrum of labor, non-profit and faith-based organizations. Those groups are supporting the broader campaign to mobilize voters, and many are also spreading the word within their specific communities.

"There are 88 organizations in Minnesota that are aligned against voter ID, and they're going to spend a lot of money trying to convince people that it's a bad idea."

"From now until Election Day we're doing a lot of door knocking, educating our community, phone banking, making them understand what this amendment means and then asking them to vote no for it," said Hindia Ali, youth leadership development coordinator for Minneapolis-based Somali Action Alliance.

Even though many people seem to support the basic idea of showing a photo ID to vote, opponents of the measure argue that the support wanes as people learn more about how the change affect the election system. They contend that senior citizens, college students, military personnel and others will face new voting barriers, and that many are likely to be wrongly disenfranchised.

Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, said her organization will be working throughout the state this fall to try to educate as many voters as possible.

"I mean I think it's definitely an uphill battle," Wang said. "There are a lot of voters that we need to talk to between now and November 6. But I think we have a good campaign in place.

"We've got the 39 local leagues around the state, and I think the more conversations we have with people, and the more we tell some of these stories and help people understand some of these unintended consequences of the legislation, I think the odds of us being able to defeat this get better."

People on both sides of voter ID issue will gather Monday for a formal debate at the University of St. Thomas Law School. Author John Fund will argue for the amendment, and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will argue against it.