My experience with the election, and particularly Election Day, this year, has led me to a new appreciation for Minnesota and the power of law. I started the day getting up while civilization slept, since my biological clock has still not adjusted to the return of Standard Time. While waiting for the coffee to brew and the delivery of the morning paper, I started watching “Way Too Early With Willie Geist”. (The lead- in program for “Morning Joe” on MSNBC). Willie always offers up some factoid he says will make us look smart during cocktail conversation. On Election Day morning this conversation tidbit was that Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the nation for the past three Presidential elections! What a great way to start the day.
As I arrived at my polling place when it opened at 7am sharp, I got in a long line and waited to vote. I learned I was voter number 113 after the machine swallowed up my ballot. Despite being there as the doors opened, there were 112 intrepid Minnesotans ahead of me in the line.
I thought about a phone call from my daughter in Pennsylvania the day before. She reported seeing an advertisement in Spanish, on the side of a public bus. Translated, the message in Spanish told voters that they had to have an ID if they wanted to vote. This was objectively false. Weeks before the courts had ruled that Pennsylvania could not require ID to vote this year. This false ad could only have been intended to discourage the Latino vote among those who lacked ID. A shocking and cynical dirty trick, it was made all the more offensive because the Public Transit Authority was evidently willing to run the ad on its buses.
The day was still young when I arrived at work and my calendar reminded me I had signed up as a volunteer for a non-partisan effort called “Election Protection”. For four hours I took a break from daily commerce and answered phone calls from all over the States of Minnesota and Missouri. To prepare for this, I had to study the election laws of both states. What I learned from studying and answering the phones was that the Minnesota’s high turnout is no accident. It was the product of thoughtful and extensive election laws that are designed to minimize the obstacles to voting. I must have answered a dozen calls from people in Missouri who wished to vote, had the ability to prove they were otherwise eligible, but were still denied the right to vote simply because they either didn’t register or failed to update a registration with an address change one month before the election. No same day registration in Missouri. This, and countless other differences in the law, made Missouri much less hospitable to allowing folks to exercise their right to vote. I was reminded of what a difference the law can make on such a basic level.
As I awaited the election results, I was feeling mighty proud to be a Minnesotan. But I have to admit that pride would only grow as the night wore on and I learned, among other things, that Minnesota voters solidly rejected an effort that may have pushed our state towards the election restriction model of states like Missouri. The “Voter ID” constitutional amendment seemed to have the notion of “government by the people” upside down. As Lincoln reminded us, government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. How sad it would have been to make the right of the governed to give their consent, dependent upon their ability to produce a particular “government issued” ID to vote. Once again, the people of Minnesota seemed to get this. How lucky we are to live in a place where the law serves our community, and our community takes its obligation for self- government so seriously.