Activists criticize DFL in battle against voter ID

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

Phyllis Hill is one of many people working on the front lines of the campaign to defeat the voter ID amendment.

As a lead organizer with the Twin Cities faith-based community group ISAIAH, she's trying to make sure that voters reject the proposed requirement that Minnesotans show photo identification to vote, which is seen as a setback for civil rights.

"I thought we were past this day," Hill said. "It's a slap in the face. It's like, what was the whole movement about?"

But Hill is frustrated by the campaign's lack of resources, so she recently paid for lawn signs for the nonpartisan group to distribute. She is personally disappointed that the Minnesota DFL Party hasn't done more to help the anti-voter ID campaign.

"I just feel like, 'Why haven't you come out on this?'" she said. "And what I've heard is that they say 'because we couldn't win it.' Well, it's because you didn't try. You can't tell me that each ballot you went into you knew you were going to win."

Although DFL officials say they have tried to support the campaign, other voter ID opponents share similar concerns.

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The Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis and the Minnesota State Baptist Convention has described the amendment as a "direct threat to democracy" and "a step backward for people of color." He said the requirement would make it harder for many to vote.

McAfee credits some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, state Rep. Bobby Joe Champion and state Sen. Jeff Hayden, all of Minneapolis, for taking strong and visible stands against voter ID. But he's critical of the DFL, which he claims has not done the same.

"What black folk need to do is wake up and evaluate the Democratic Party harder than they've been doing," McAfee said. "Because they've left us out to dry, and many others."

McAfee also supports the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which the DFL opposes. He claims the party is ignoring voter ID to focus instead on the marriage amendment.

"Have you seen a commercial on television about it? Have you seen a commercial about the marriage amendment?" he asked. "That tells you where their value is at."

The DFL officially opposes both amendments, and Chairman Ken Martin insists they are equal priorities. He said opponents of the marriage amendment organized earlier.

Martin said there is much more that can be done, but he pointed out that the party has already directed tens of thousands of dollars, as well as other non-monetary donations, to the voter ID opposition campaign.

"Resources are very tough to come by, and part of the challenge for this amendment is that there is not a lot of resources being devoted to that from other outside partners and interest groups," Martin said. "The party is doing everything it can with limited resources to try to help get the word out and defeat this. It would be really unfair to say the party isn't doing its part. Others aren't doing their part, but the party's been there from day one."

The official statewide anti-amendment campaign organization is called Our Vote Our Future. The coalition of 80 organizations includes more than a dozen labor unions. ISAIAH is also a member.

In July, Our Vote Our Future reported that it had raised more than $200,000 since the start of the year, which was slightly better than what amendment supporters raised during the same period. Amendment supporters have raised about $185,000.

In contrast, Minnesota United for All Families, which opposes the marriage amendment, has raised more than $3.8 million since January and more than $5.4 million since last year.

Eric Fought, communications director for Our Vote Our Future, said the DFL has been a strong partner from the beginning, and he's surprised that anyone is complaining. On the issue of money, Fought offered a suggestion for critics. "If people have concerns about the amount of resources that are in the campaign, I would encourage them to look at ways to help us raise those resources," he said.

Fought also believes the amendment can be defeated. He contends that more people are moving to the "vote no" side every day, and are also making financial donations to the campaign.