For some, showing an ID to vote would be harder than you imagine

Haddayr Copley-Woods
Haddayr Copley-Woods: Some things that seem effortless to us are nearly impossible hurdles for others.
Courtesy Haddayr Copley-Woods

Haddayr Copley-Woods is an author and blogger in Minneapolis, as well as a source in the Public Insight Network for MPR News.

The proposed amendment to our state Constitution restricting voting access to those with state-issued photo IDs seems quite likely to pass.

I find this astounding. It's probably going to pass — despite our nation's shameful history of poll taxes, "literacy tests" and denial of suffrage to large swaths of the population.

And despite the lack of any need for it.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

According to Joseph Mansky, the Ramsey County elections manager since 2002, convictions for voter fraud in his county constituted one-hundredth of one percent of total voting between 2006 and 2011, while the percentage of registered voters in Ramsey County who do not currently have a valid state-issued ID is 9 percent.

All of this voter suppression (and expense) to address a problem that essentially does not exist.

So what is this really about, then, if it isn't about addressing rampant election fraud? (It clearly isn't.)

I believe that the people behind this amendment and amendments like it all over the country are part of a nationwide movement designed to disenfranchise poor and especially minority voters. Not only would minority voters likely be affected disproportionately by this amendment (similar amendments in other states have been halted for that very reason), but the campaign itself has engaged in shocking race-baiting.

I don't think the average Minnesotan has any interest in disenfranchising voters. I think the average middle-class Minnesotan who plans to vote for this amendment is suffering from a lack of imagination.

Perhaps you live in a world in which pretty much everyone has a driver's license. This seems like no big deal, right? You just bring your ID to the polls, like you'd bring it to get a beer.

The problem is, quite a few people don't have that easy access to an ID. And a beer is not a constitutional right.

So, if you think this amendment is no big deal, please try to imagine for a moment:

You are disabled and unable to drive, so you have no need for a driver's license. (More and more people become disabled every day; if you can't imagine it, you might need to someday.)

You want to vote, though, and you managed to get a ride to the polls, but living on your Social Security disability check means you'll have to skip several meals to scrape together the $22 it costs to get your birth certificate and provide it to the county. (Sure, the state has to provide you the ID for free, but you have to provide the state the necessary documentation. Your poverty has required you to move various times, and you lost your first birth certificate years ago. Or your parents never got you a copy.)

Plus, you have to try to talk someone into giving you a ride and you feel like you've been asking people for a lot of favors lately. Oh, and also — the nearest place to get the ID is 100 miles away.

It seems to me that if my fellow Minnesotans just sat down for a few minutes to think about how this piece of plastic they carry thoughtlessly in their wallets might mean half a week's worth of groceries to someone, or several days' anxious and exhausting travel and planning, they might see this with clearer eyes.

Please, my fellow middle-class Minnesotans. Think about how some things that seem effortless to us are nearly impossible hurdles for others. Documentation. Transportation. Fees. Please think about our history of fighting for equal voting rights for everybody. And please think about the one thing that makes us all equal citizens: rich or poor, able-bodied or disabled, male or female, gay or straight.

We each get one vote.

Let's keep it that way.