Rose French writes about religious and spiritual matters for the Star Tribune. Before arriving in the Twin Cities this fall, she covered religion for the Associated Press in Tennessee, where she wrote about the Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Gideons and other religious groups and issues.
E-mail Rose with your thoughts or questions.
Leaders from different faiths groups gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to voice their opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to have a photo ID.
Close to 20 Twin Cities area religious leaders delivered a letter to state House and Senate leaders, which outlines the reasons why they believe such an amendment is a bad idea.
The proposed voter ID “seeks to reduce the number of people who participate in our democracy. Passage of the proposed referendum would primarily reduce voters of color, the elderly, students, poor and non-English-speaking voters,” according to the letter, which was signed by close to 75 religious leaders and dozens of others involved in the Twin Cities faith community.
“Effectively, this gives more influence to a smaller number of wealthy, privileged and primarily white voters,” the letter states.
Several faith leaders spoke during a news conference at the Capitol, expressing their disapproval for the proposal.
“It’s a major step back,” said Richard Chase, board president for the group Jewish Community Action. “This amendment discriminates against the poor and elderly. Making voting harder makes no sense.”
Republicans have introduced the photo ID concept as a constitutional amendment and believe they have the votes to put it on the November general election ballot. It would likely go into effect in the 2014 general election, if approved by voters.
State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, have introduced the photo ID as a proposed constitutional amendment. Kiffmeyer argues requiring voters to show a photo ID will discourage fraud at the polls. She also believes elderly and other groups will not be disenfranchised with a photo ID requirement.
“It doesn’t disallow anything,” Kiffmeyer told the Star Tribune on Tuesday. “What it adds is a photo ID requirement. This is not an undue burden to have this requirement. I think we need to add a greater level of integrity to the voting process. It will strengthen the election system here in Minnesota.”
Here’s a copy of the letter delivered to legislative leaders:
Dear Legislative Leaders:
We, as people of faith in the state of Minnesota, urge you not to put a voter ID amendment on the ballot. People of faith believe that all human life is sacred. In virtually all faith traditions, God creates humans with dignity and value. God intends people to participate in the human community, and to be able to do so with inherent respect. We believe that democracy is most complete—and therefore most powerful—when it embraces people on the margins of society. We believe that democracy at its best engages participation from the most diverse and gifted gathering of God’s whole people.
In face of these values, the proposed voter ID referendum in Minnesota seeks to reduce the number of people who participate in our democracy. Passage of the proposed referendum would primarily reduce voters of color, the elderly, students, poor and non-English-speaking voters. Effectively this gives more influence to a smaller number of wealthy, privileged and primarily White voters.
Furthermore, passage of the referendum would effectively eliminate voting as a right, making it a privilege instead. People of faith recognize the proposed referendum as an attack on democracy, reducing participation rather than expanding it. It would also increase government expense and power, requiring an expanded system to evaluate and process voter IDs.
A deeply troubling implication recognized by people of faith is that the proposed referendum would reduce the number of people of color who could vote. One of the primary objectives of the civil rights campaign in the US was voter registration. In its attack on citizens’ right to vote, the proposed referendum seeks to increase “white power,” and would dangerously isolate White America from an increasingly diverse and gifted world. People of faith see the proposed referendum as profoundly cynical and backward.
Additionally, the proposed referendum would reduce the number of poor people who could vote, for it will be people of limited economic resource, limited time and limited mobility who will have most difficulty obtaining voter identification cards. By reducing the number of poor who vote, the proposed referendum seeks to increase the political power and influence of the wealthiest and most privileged classes of our society.
It is for these reasons that we urge our legislative leaders to not put the Voter ID amendment on the 2012 ballot and ensure that Minnesota continues a proud legacy of high voter turnout and participation in our democracy.