Voting restrictions unwelcome

Cynthia Moothart
League of Rural Voters

With the Supreme Court ruling on Monday, Minnesotans will decide in November whether we rewrite our state constitution to include new restrictions on voting, including the need to show photo ID at the polls.

In its decision, the court affirmed the legislature’s authority to place amendments on the ballot. Missing was proof that one was even needed in this case. And that makes for an unfortunate and shortsighted opinion, one that puts Minnesota at odds with states like Wisconsin and Missouri where courts held that such measures are unconstitutional because they threaten citizens’ fundamental right to vote.

But it goes beyond than that.

The presumption of innocence is outlined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Should the amendment pass in November, it no longer will be “innocent until proved guilty.” The burden will be on individuals to prove they have the right to vote, not the state’s to prove they don’t.

And everyone, whether they vote or not and have an ID or don’t, will be forced to pay the bill.

Dan McGrath, chairman of the pro-amendment advocacy group “Protect My Vote,” consistently has charged that county officials fabricated implementation costs when outlining results of the amendment’s requirements.

In a recent interview with Minnesota Public Radio he stated, “They’re making up numbers out of thin air with no basis.”

But his statements don’t square with the facts.

In 2011 Minnesota’s Republican-controlled House and Senate voted to implement these same restrictions through legislation along a series of strict party-line votes. Before being vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, it was estimated that these changes would cost the state more than $32.4 million in its first year.

Local governments would have to kick in additional revenue. A recent survey by the Minnesota Association of County Officers found that medium-sized counties, like Stearns with 85,000 voters, would bear start-up costs between $435,000 and $965,000.

Hardest hit, however, will be sparsely populated counties currently allowed to conduct balloting by mail. Kittson County, with 2,800 registered voters, estimates it will face more than $730,000 in new costs, or nearly $260 per voter, should the amendment pass.

All this, for what?

 

Proponents of the amendment argue it’s necessary to prevent voter fraud. But an exhaustive analysis out this month proves that’s a dubious claim, at best.

News21 is an investigative journalism project conducted at top research universities across the country founded by the nonpartisan Carnegie and Knight foundations.

Project participants investigated every possible type of voter fraud, unearthing just 2,068 alleged cases since 2000, including a total of 10 in Minnesota.

Their findings: 46 percent resulted in acquittals, dropped charges or decisions not to bring charges. Only 10 instances of in-person voter impersonation were identified, amounting to one case for every 15 million voters nationwide. See http://votingrights.news21.com.

In other words, fraud is so rare it fails to even statistically register when compared to total votes cast.

These numbers reflect findings from a five-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which was shut down in 2007 after failing to uncover any level of fraud to warrant its continuation.

In November voters won’t see the actual wording of the amendment but a shortened innocuous-sounding question: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

In his dissension with the majority opinion, Justice Paul Anderson called the ballot question “inaccurate, misleading and deceptive,” given its failure to reflect the amendment’s true meaning and outcomes.

Minnesotans now have the power to ensure our elections remain free and fair. It’s my hope they exercise better judgment than the four court justices, who narrowly decided the amendment simply as a matter of law.

Because there still is a basic difference between right and wrong.

 

Cynthia Moothart is policy director of the League of Rural Voters, a Minnesota-based nonprofit advocating on behalf of small communities nationwide.

up arrow