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Continued: A good target for League of Women Voters

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 12, 2011 - 3:32 PM

If you're a history buff, a women's rights booster and/or a fan of fair and open elections -- and I plead guilty on all three counts -- you're bound to think highly of the Minnesota League of Women Voters.

If you think of it at all.

Being taken for granted isn't the worst thing that can happen to an organization 92 years after the cause that gave it birth achieved its goal.

The League was the phoenix that rose from the Minnesota Women's Suffrage Association's ashes in October 1919, within weeks of the Legislature's ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the vote.

It lacked the crusading zeal of the MWSA. But it got busy encouraging women to run for office, studying a plethora of public issues, lobbying for laws that facilitate clean and orderly elections, and setting the gold standard for sponsorship of campaign debates.

That work has kept the League alive and relevant, but not very visible. And certainly not hip.

There's no time like the present for the League to raise its profile and update its image. An issue appears to be heading toward the state's 2012 constitutional amendment ballot that's smack in the League's wheelhouse. It's the GOP-backed proposal to require that Minnesotans display a state-issued photo ID card before being allowed to vote.

The ID-to-vote proposal is being pitched by proponents as a way to ensure voting integrity. It ought to speak volumes that an organization whose name is synonymous with voting integrity flat-out opposes an ID requirement as a means to that end.

It ought to, provided the League can speak loudly enough to be heard.

Let there be no doubt that Leaguers are ready to speak forcefully enough. I witnessed as much during a recent Star Tribune Editorial Board visit by state president Stacy Doepner-Hove and the League's national president, Elisabeth MacNamara of Atlanta.

They came to defend the nation's Clean Air Act. But when ID-to-vote came up, they were ready with a well-stocked case against it.

"This sets up a barrier for a lot of folks who have never had a need for a drivers' license or ID card in any other aspect of their lives, and now would be told they need one to exercise the most fundamental constitutional right that they have," MacNamara said.

A lot of the estimated 100,000 Minnesotans who lack state-issued ID cards, but who are otherwise fully entitled to vote, are elderly women who never drove or who let their licenses lapse.

Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old woman from Chattanooga, Tenn., has become an anti-ID national poster grandma for twice being denied her state's newly required ID card -- even though she had voted in every election but one for more than 70 years.

People like Dorothy are the League's people.

But another affected bunch is young. Not every 18- to- 22-year-old carries a driver's license, or one that bears a current address. Not everyone has an up-to-date student photo ID, particularly not in August, when Minnesota's primary elections now occur.

Young people like those who decided rather spontaneously on Election Day 2008, "What the heck, I'll vote," might not be able to do so in future elections if a photo ID requirement is in place.

Trust this: The proponents of a photo ID rule know full well that a majority of 2008's young voters cast ballots for Barack Obama.

They likely are also well-aware that polls are detecting a growing political generation gap in the United States. Young voters are much more likely than their elders to back Obama's reelection bid, according to fascinating new poll results from the Pew Research Center.

Those who seek a constitutional voting ID requirement -- and a same-sex-marriage ban, and a supermajority requirement to raise taxes, and whatever other conservative notion the Republican Legislature takes to the ballot because it can't get it past DFL Gov. Mark Dayton -- know that time and the grim reaper are not on their side.

Their chance to conform the Constitution to their thinking is now.

That makes now the League's moment to get better acquainted with the generation called Millennials. Voters who remember Franklin Roosevelt and those who came of age after 9/11 -- as well as the disabled and very poor -- ought to be allies in an effort to defeat a photo ID requirement.

They will need to be. A voter ID requirement won't be easy to beat. Once a person has a state-issued ID, it's easy for him or her to think that everyone has one, and that something could go wrong if it isn't used.

Many Minnesotans buy the argument that if a photo card is needed to cash a check, board an airplane or see a doctor, why not to vote?

Leaguers have good answers: Showing IDs would prevent only one kind of fraud -- one voter impersonating another. That's exceedingly rare in Minnesota elections. It would be prosecuted as a felony if detected.

Unlike flying or getting a flu shot, voting is a constitutional right. It's one for which earlier generations marched and shed blood to extend to every citizen (in this state, save for imprisoned or on-probation felons, who would benefit from more and better advisories that they are not eligible to cast ballots).

To the organization that keeps alive an institutional memory of suffragettes who were jailed to win the right to vote, that means something.

League grandmothers, call your granddaughters. Now's your chance to make it mean something to a new generation.

* * *

Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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