Minnesota voters rejected two proposed amendments to the state constitution on Election Day, turning back measures placed on the ballot by a Republican-controlled Legislature that voters also sent packing.
Both proposals, a same-sex marriage ban and a requirement that voters show official government photo identification at the polls, once appeared to have strong support. The marriage amendment loss here ended a 30-state winning streak enjoyed by those seeking to limit marriage to a woman and a man.
For 18 months, the marriage amendment was an extremely close, expensive, and hard-fought race. But, as returns came in on election night, "no" votes, helped by a small percentage of blank ballots, led the "yes" votes. Still, the race was too close to call until shortly before 2 a.m.
Richard Carlbom the campaign manager of Minnesotans United for All Families, the main group working to defeat the amendment, took the stage at St. Paul River Centre to tell supporters they'd made history.
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"Minnesota proved that love is bigger than government," he said to a rejoicing crowd, echoing a line former Gov. Jesse Ventura had used in one of Minnesotans United's campaign commercials.
Although same-sex marriage still remains against the law in Minnesota, opponents of the amendment rejoiced in stopping it.
Carlbom credited the breadth of the campaign for the victory. It brought together Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Green party members, faith leaders, businesses and thousands of volunteers across the state.
"This campaign was built on the idea that if we have a conversation — an honest and authentic statewide conversation — about why marriage matters and who should have the freedom to participate in it, that Minnesotans would value freedom and fairness above all else. And they did!" he said.
Many in the crowd cried with gratitude and relief.
Dianna Tastad, 23, had volunteered for the campaign since February because she said the amendment would have hurt her, and people she cared about.
"I'm so glad that our state said no to this!" she said.
"Minnesota proved that love is bigger than government."
Despite a two-to-one financial advantage in the race, amendment opponents felt like underdogs. Most polls showed the amendment ahead, or in a dead heat. Campaign volunteer Jan Puckett of Waconia, the mother of a gay son, said she felt anxious right up to the end.
"When I was making calls, I got so many yeses, and I got discouraged. And then I called in a different area and I got just as many nos. But it was 50-50 when I turned my sheet in tonight and I was really frightened. So I am so grateful to every Minnesotan who voted no. I thank you so so much for upholding the rights of gay and lesbian people," she said.
No votes dominated in the Twin Cities, the arrowhead, and some southern Minnesota counties including Olmsted, Blue Earth and Winona.
NO CONCESSIONS YET
The pro-amendment side, Minnesota for Marriage, did not concede the race last night. Communications Director Chuck Darrell said the campaign would wait until all the votes were counted. Minnesota for Marriage spent $3 million on television commercials, some warning of potential negative consequences if same-sex marriage were to be legalized. Darrell said the campaign stands by that warning.
"It was pretty plain through our advertising what we see coming. Also there's a court case in Hennepin County District Court right now that if it succeeds, that will legalize same-sex marriage, and also there are several bills in the Legislature that are designed to do the same," Darrell said.
Minnesota for Marriage frequently pointed to DFL state Sen. John Marty's efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.
With the Legislature back in DFL control, and the amendment defeated, Marty expressed confidence that it could happen.
"Now the voters have agreed," he said. "I think we just keep on moving forward on it now."
It was a jubilant night for this crowd. President Obama mentioned "gay or straight" in his acceptance speech. Wisconsin elected the first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin. Same-sex marriage support won the popular vote in Maine, Maryland and possibly Washington. They see the tide turning on marriage for same-sex couples, and Minnesota might be well on its way to be next.
VOTER ID: DRAMATIC REVERSAL
Minnesota voters also rejected a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment that once appeared to be a slam dunk for passage.
Unofficial results showed the opposition to the ballot question at 52.4 percent, compared to 46.3 percent in support. Opponents and supporters offered competing explanations for the upset, as well as the dramatic reversal of public opinion that preceded it.
Voter ID opponents waited until the early morning hours to celebrate a result that already appeared inevitable several hours before. Luchelle Stevens, manager of the amendment opposition campaign Our Vote Our Future, addressed the remaining crowd inside the St. Paul RiverCentre. "Minnesota, we did it," he said. "We did what everyone said was impossible."
Stevens and other opponents described the results as historic. That's because polls once showed public support for a requirement to show photo identification in order to vote as high as 80 percent. But a few days ago, the polls showed the contest in a statistical dead heat.
"We did what everyone said was impossible" on voter ID.
"It was a hard fight, but it was a right fight, and tonight we can declare that we did it," she said.
The large coalition of community groups, religious organizations and labor unions that made up the vote no effort did more than fight hard. Greta Bergstrom, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said volunteers made contact with more 1.5 million voters over the past four months to explain the costs, complications and consequences of the amendment.
"The way this was written with so many unanswered questions and frankly so many alarming things that concerned people definitely made people unsure," Bergstrom said. "For something to be put into the state constitution, people need to be sure about it in order to vote yes."
Many amendment opponents said they weren't surprised by the recent and rapid decline in support for voter ID. Carolyn Jackson, lobbying coordinator for the ACLU Minnesota, was among them.
"We knew all along that support for this was only a quarter of an inch deep. It looked very wide. But when you had conversation with people, with voters and just anyone interested in voting rights, a 30 second conversation was like 'that's a terrible idea.' That's all it took. We just had to have a lot of conversations with people," Jackson said.
Voter ID supporters held a low-key gathering at a St. Paul bar that attracted no more than two dozen people. Most of them had gone home long before any meaningful results were in. Dan McGrath, campaign manager for Protect My Vote, stopped short of making a formal concession. But he concluded before midnight that an amendment victory was out of reach. McGrath said he thought he ran a good campaign, but he didn't raise enough money to match the opposition.
"Fundraising for this has been extraordinarily challenging. Early on, our fundraisers were going out and talking to potential large donors, and universally what we were hearing was, 'You don't need any money, this is going to pass easily, it's a no-brainer,' " he said. "We heard that over and over and over again. Then the polls started to narrow, and it was kind of like see, we we've been telling you guys this is going to be a fight. It isn't a cake walk."
McGrath accused the opposition of running a campaign of "lies and deception."
Protect My Vote was a campaign offshoot of Minnesota Majority, the conservative-leaning election watchdog organization that has highlighted for several years what they view as problems in the election system. McGrath pledged that the voter ID issue won't go away.
"We're going back to the Legislature for the 2013 session, and we're going to continue to push for election reform. We're hopefully going to be get some agreement between the House and the Senate and the governor on some common sense reforms that are going to improve the accuracy, transparency and fairness of our election system," he said.
But the Republican lawmakers who put the amendment on the ballot this year won't be in charge next session. McGrath now has to convince a DFL-controlled Legislature and a DFL governor to take up an issue that they spent several months campaigning against.
MPR News reporters Curtis Gilbert and Samara Freemark contributed to this story.