In yesterday's Grand Fork Herald, Cynthia Moothart, policy director for the Minneapolis-based League of Rural Voters writes in Don’t make military voters run obstacle course:
A national group dedicated to preserving the voting rights of military personnel recently praised Minnesota for its leadership, designating the state an all-star as part of its Heroes Vote Initiative.
Such recognition represents a dramatic reversal in a long and disturbing trend that distinguishes Minnesota from the vast majority of states today. It also makes good on a campaign promise by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, whose office coordinates elections and voting.
Before 2006, Minnesota ranked near the bottom of all states in its number of military voters, despite leading the nation in overall turnout for 30-plus years.
The proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot threatens to undo these gains — and take away the right of democracy’s defenders serving abroad from taking part in elections at home.
Minnesota is home to roughly 20,000 active-duty soldiers and guardsmen — and more than 390,000 veterans, many of who are elderly or otherwise would fall in meeting its requirements.
Unlike other states with such laws, the Minnesota proposal provides no exemptions for military personnel and their families. The same criteria for proving identity and residency would apply to troops serving elsewhere as those walking into their neighborhood precinct on Election Day. That includes the need for an up-to-date state-issued photo ID with current address.
Nearly one-third of all service personnel, according to U.S. Census data, move on a yearly basis, a rate three times higher than the general population. And often, troops and their families are uprooted on a moment’s notice.
A new report titled "Military voting update: A bleak picture in 2012" outlines the herculean effort by Ritchie to overcome significant structural barriers in defending the military vote, despite a federal law enacted in 2009 that so far has failed to ease his way.
The report, published by the Military Voter Protection Project and AMVETS Legal Clinic at Chapman University, concludes, “For too long, our men and women in uniform have been silenced in the electoral process.” (The full report is available at www.GreaterMNCounts.org.)
Now is not the time for Minnesotans to turn a deaf ear. . . .
Move toward the middle of the state. In Tuesday's West Central Tribune, Jerry Tedrow of New London writes to the editors in his letter, Voter ID could be a disaster:
After having read a recent op-ed relating to the photo ID constitutional amendment, wherein the writer challenged it because of the number of moves and address changes he would have made had the law been in effect, got me to thinking of what I’d have gone through had I been confronted with it. I did a personal historical review.
From my 21st birthday until the day I settled into my present address, a period of 20 years, I discovered that as a result of being in college, the military, working summers, going to summer schools and working at my career, I had made 41 changes in living arrangements, residing in 23 different abodes.
During that time period, 10 various elections took place, and I lived at 10 different addresses. Had the law been in effect, I would have been forced to take time off, make the drive to a county seat, and get a new ID with my most recent photo and address. My driver’s license signifying I was a legal Minnesota resident wouldn’t have been good enough.
I know I’m not the only person who would have faced this dilemma. All we have to do is look at the thousands of transients (workers and students) who might get fed up and say to forget it, it’s too much of an inconvenience to jump through that hoop seemingly with every election. I might have thought to do so.
The inconvenience I could live with, but the cost would be another thing. How much? We really don’t know, but estimates go as high as $50 million, and this money has to come from some form of taxable revenue. It ain’t gonna be free, as it’s being touted by the proponents of the amendment.
Please, think this issue through. The results of its passage could be catastrophic for us for a long time, and would be almost impossible to retract at a later date.
That cost is subject to debate. On Minnesota Public Radio, Tim Pugmire reports in Voter ID implementation costs in dispute:
If Minnesotans approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to present identification at the polls, many government officials say it will come with a multi-million dollar price tag that will ultimately fall to taxpayers. . . .
A Minneapolis-based advocacy group that opposes voter ID suggests even higher costs. The group Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota estimates combined state and local costs of from $36 million to $78 million.
But another new report downplays the financial effect of voter ID and suggests possible long-term savings. The different assessments reflect deep disagreement between amendment supporters and opponents about every aspect of the proposed requirement.
One argument is that with card readers, fewer election judges would be needed to match voters with their ID cards. Pugmire reports:
The author of a competing study for a pro-amendment organization rejects those numbers. Peter Nelson, director of public policy at the Center of the American Experiment, said he thinks Bonnifield's analysis misinterprets the amendment language and overstates the number of voters who would need provisional ballots.
Nelson contends Minnesota could save money over time because a streamlined system for registration and identification would require fewer election judges. He said counties would also save money if there is less voter fraud to investigate and prosecute.
Still, Nelson said his estimates might not hold up once lawmakers begin crafting the enabling legislation needed to put the voter ID requirement in place.
Gustavus Adolphus math professor Max Hailperin posted the MPR article to his Facebook page, along with an intriguing remark:
Nelson's suggestion of a net savings "because a streamlined system for registration and identification would require fewer election judges" is bogus because the same streamlined system could be put into place without the mandate of photo ID or the substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification.
I observed an election in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, in which those voters who had Drivers Licenses -- the vast majority -- simply stuck the back side of their card under a laser scanner and were all set to go, without the election judge needing to inquire after their name and address and manually look them up.
Likewise, anyone doing Election Day Registration who had a card got the registration form filled out just by scanning the card. But those few without the card were processed too, just more slowly. And nobody looked at the photos on the front of the pre-registered voters' cards.
(The same system is also used in other Iowa counties; similar systems have been deployed elsewhere. Electronic pollbooks do not require mandatory photo ID or any other restrictions.)
It's a very strong point. We could implement the technology without the voter suppression.
Hailperin, who writes that he has looked into "electronic poll books around the nation while lobbying regarding that portion of HF210/SF509 (the bill most people thought of as a photo ID bill -- but 20 of its 60 pages were devoted to electronic poll books)" has accepted a request to write a guest post for Bluestem elaborating on this comment. Look for it soon.
Photo: Military absentee voting, via Military.com News.