Contributed by Sandra Feist. Sandra has been a member of the ACLU-MN Board of Directors since September 2010. She is a Partner at the law firm, Grell & Feist, where she practices immigration law.
I’m not elderly. I’m not poor. I’m highly educated and an active voter in Minnesota. Nonetheless, if the proposed Voter ID Amendment were in force five years ago when I married my husband, I would not have been able to vote.
In my young, impressionable youth, I married a guy I met at a David Bowie concert – and we soon divorced. This occurred in New Orleans where I had moved following college graduation. At the time, I was not one for careful record-keeping. In addition, my departure from New Orleans, after five years of residence, was hardly an orderly affair: I evacuated from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with a change of clothing and my law school books as my only worldly possessions. When I returned months later to gather up my belongings, I shoveled boxes and boxes containing papers and books and photo albums into the back of a van and drove back to Minnesota.
Not surprisingly, I couldn’t locate either my marriage certificate or divorce decree once the dust settled. When I married my husband in 2007, I sent a request, with payment, to the State of Louisiana, Parish of Orleans for a certified copy of my divorce decree. With this document, I would be able to obtain a driver’s license from the State of Minnesota with my new married name. With this document, I would be able to show the chain from my maiden name to my ex-husband’s name to my current husband’s name.
I was proactive. I followed up. I submitted this request in a timely manner in order to promptly update my identification document. I didn’t count on the fact that New Orleans was still a mess, two years after the hurricane, and no certified copy of my divorce decree arrived. Ever.
I eventually found my certified copy, miraculously, and was able to obtain an updated U.S. passport and valid Minnesota driver’s license in my new married name. I don’t recall how long it took, but it was at least a year. A full year during which I could not, in spite of my best efforts and best intentions, obtain a valid, up-to-date Minnesota driver’s license.
During that year – probably longer – I couldn’t have exercised the fundamental right granted to Minnesota and U.S. citizens: the right to cast a vote for the individuals who would represent my interests and ideals at the state and federal level.
There are innumerable circumstances in which life gets in the way of our best intentions to maintain valid, up-to-date state identification:
- We move, sometimes frequently and sometimes unexpectedly, as in my case.
- Our names change, sometimes at inopportune times in the election cycle.
- We’re busy professionals who don’t have time to sit around at the DMV all afternoon waiting to update the address on our driver’s license.
- And yes, sometimes we’re old or disabled or too disillusioned at the moment to get our act together and be proactive and obtain updated identification for the purpose of voting.
In spite of its innocuous caption, the proposed amendment
to our state constitution would create a significant barrier to voting for many state citizens from all walks of life. This significant barrier is being justified as an essential caution against voter impersonation fraud. After two very, very close elections in Minnesota over the past few years, one would think that if this were a true problem, we’d have seen convictions for this type of voter fraud. We have not.
Despite the facts that I am healthy, educated and motivated, I had a difficult time obtaining a Minnesota identification card. I worry about those voters who have also lost things like birth certificates and divorce decrees but are less fortunate than me. So, I am voting no on this unnecessary and un-Minnesotan amendment that will restrict the right to vote.