Debate shows divide on voter ID

Constitutional amendment proposal sparks lively discussion at Boutwells Landing

By ERIK SANDIN – Stillwater Gazette

OAK PARK HEIGHTS – Carolyn Jackson of the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) probably best summed up feelings about the proposed Voter ID constitutional amendment on the fall ballot during a debate on the issue Wednesday at Boutwells Landing.

"It’s a very deep philosophical question and one where we’re divided," she said.

Wednesday’s debate at Boutwells Landing showed just how sharp the divide is regarding the Voter ID amendment.

Andy Cilek of the Minnesota Voters Alliance and Lucky Rosenbloom of the State Council on Black Minnesotans both offered spirited reasons why the Voter ID amendment is needed.

Jackson and Jeffrey Martin of the NAACP voiced their equally strong opposition to the amendment, saying the proposal tries to address voter fraud that does not exist.

Before a crowd that filled Boutwells Landing Town Hall, Cilek argued that the Voter ID amendment was necessary to repair what he called the state’s "broken" election system.

"We have the worst voting system. People intuitively know that the system is broken," he said. "We need to fix our election system."

Rosenbloom added that requiring people to show an ID to vote was "empowering."

"Voter ID is not doomsday. It’s empowering. Voter ID is empowering," he said.

Jackson and Martin countered Cilek’s and Rosenbloom’s arguments by saying the proposed amendment was an attempt to restructure an election system in the state that works well now and would disenfranchise many voters.

"We’re talking about radically restructuring our voting system," Jackson said. "Minnesota has the gold standard of voting."

"We should stop calling it a Voter ID amendment," Martin added. "It’s a voter suppression movement. Do we need to put hurdles in front of people?"

Jackson and Martin also pointed out that the amendment does not address how people would get identification to vote.

"There is no plan to help people get an ID," Jackson added. "That’s up to the next legislature."

Jackson then posed a question to her audience.

"How many here have an ID that says you live in Boutwells Landing?" she said. To those who did not raise their hand, she said, "If you didn’t raise your hand, you can’t vote."

While Rosenbloom called concerns about getting people Voter IDs if the amendment passes "valid" but said there is time to work out details.

"We’ve got two years to work it out," he said.

And Cilek noted that many Minnesotans already have ID in the form of a driver’s license or state ID card.

Martin also questioned the voter fraud prevention argument amendment supporters cite as a reason for Voter ID.

"What evidence or data exists that shows extensive voter fraud?’ he asked. I haven’t seen any evidence that there’s voter fraud. The data is not there in the state of Minnesota."

Rosenbloom then pointed out there have been 200 recent voter fraud convictions in state courts.

"It’s a matter of record. It’s irrefutable," he said.

Cilek added that data from Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office showed 48,000 voters in the system who were inactive or not checked in the 2008 election.

"We don’t have any systems," he said. "It’s like leaving the bank vault open. We have to get serious about the right to vote in this country."

Jackson and Martin countered by calling Voter ID movements in Minnesota and other states attacks on voters’ rights.

"Since 2008, there’s been an onslaught, an attack on voter rights in this country," Martin said. "It’s not about black people or white people. It’s not a black, white thing."

"Our history as a nation has been about increasing the number of people who can vote," Jackson added.

Cilek, however, said the Voter ID amendment offers people a way to believe the election system works.

"I think we’re having this amendment law because people don’t have faith in the system," he said. "All I ever wanted was my vote to count as a full vote. Our election system is upside down, it’s broken and we need to fix it."