Shannon Doty is a 28-year-old resident of Minnesota and a member of the Wisconsin National Guard. She is currently serving her country as a combat medic in Afghanistan, and while deployed, Shannon may very well become one of thousands of disfranchised voters in Minnesota.
The ACLU filed a petition today with the Minnesota Supreme Court on behalf of voters like Shannon, seeking to strike a constitutional amendment from the general election ballot in November that would require in-person voters to show government-issued photo ID. The amendment would require any voter who lacks photo ID to cast a provisional ballot, and also contains language that will make it more difficult to cast absentee ballots and might spell the end of Election Day Registration, which significantly boosts turnout. If the Minnesota amendment remains on the ballot and passes, Shannon may not get to cast a ballot during future deployments. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t carry her driver’s license with her when she deploys and, as a consequence, may well be barred from voting absentee in the future.
Enacted after Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed photo ID legislation last year, this proposed amendment is part of a wave of laws passed in the run-up to the 2012 general election which are fundamentally altering the way Americans cast their votes. From Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to Florida and Tennessee, voters are being asked to swallow some radical electoral changes, which are leaving many confused, discouraged, and disfranchised.
The risk of suppressing the voices of Americans like Shannon who have put their lives on the line for us all should fill legislators with shame, but sadly, there seems to be very little awareness of the dramatic consequences these laws are having. In this election year, the right to vote is a candle burning at both ends: early voting periods have been reduced and there are short periods after the election for provisional voters to return with ID and see that their ballots are counted. Rather than making registration and voting more streamlined and user-friendly, legislators seem determined to insert as much bureaucracy and as many documentation scavenger hunts as possible between a voter and his/her vote. Even advances that have demonstrably increased participation in our democracy, such as Election Day Registration in places like Maine and Minnesota, are facing express or covert repeals.
It should come as no surprise that the Minnesota legislature is hiding the ball on its proposed photo ID requirement for voting. Its amendment would require “government-issued” photo ID, but the ballot question put to the voters conveniently fails to mention that the IDs must be government-issued. The plain language of the amendment says it will apply to in-person voters, but says nothing so definite about absentee voters like Shannon. Nevertheless, the ballot question says it will definitely apply to “all voters.” And in the guise of applying “substantially equivalent” identification and verification procedures to all voters, it may well end Election Day Registration. Rep. Winkler noted these problems, but his words unfortunately fell on deaf ears: “It seems to me what you’re doing is trying to sell your amendment to the voters, to mislead them into believing that this is just about saying who you are on election day, when, in fact, your bill is a Trojan Horse to do a lot of other things to disrupt and cause chaos in Minnesota’s election.”
We agree, but we’ve done more than just agree – today, we’ve taken action. Join us in the fight to protect the right to vote.