GOP caucuses put issues to real test

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 7, 2012 - 11:36 PM

Voters handed over their driver's licenses to enter precinct caucuses in Stillwater Tuesday night and watched as volunteers quickly swiped the card's magnetic strip and transferred their names and addresses into a laptop computer.

The sign next to the laptop said it all: "Voter ID Demo Here." While this was a Republican caucus, not a polling place, the slick downloading of information from license to laptop was meant to show that a photo ID requirement for voters -- like the one Republican legislators want to put on the ballot -- could be accomplished without election day drama.

"I spent fifty bucks on the card readers," said Joe Westrup, a Stillwater Republican activist who cobbled the system together and gave it a tryout at Rutherford Elementary school, where eight precincts held Republican caucuses.

While a statewide voting system would be more complex, he said the demonstration was meant to show the efficiency of ID-card reading.

"We're hoping that people will understand how very simple a process this can be," Westrup said.

While Tuesday's caucuses were focused on presidential politics -- and Rick Santorum won the straw-ballot vote at Rutherford as he did in the statewide vote -- the fate of constitutional amendments that will appear on the November ballot also looms as a potent political force.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has already put a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the November ballot and is expected to put the voter ID requirement on the ballot as well. Other possibilities include permanent fiscal restraints, a limit on union power known as the "right to work," a proposal to avoid future state shutdowns and a plan to change the way judges are selected.

Members of one Stillwater precinct took up each hot-button issue in order, and they approved resolutions in favor of the marriage amendment, the proposed voter ID amendment, the "right-to- work" amendment and an amendment requiring a balanced budget at both the state and federal levels. But they balked at making it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes or applying term limits to judges.

The marriage and photo ID amendments also were hot topics at a GOP caucus in Buffalo. "I'm in favor of an amendment to make it between a man and a woman," said Dr. Keith Stinson, who said he saw same-sex marriage as a vehicle for gays and lesbians to improve their health care benefits. He also favored a photo ID amendment for voting, saying "It prevents fraud."

Opponents of the photo ID proposal planned to introduce resolutions against the idea at 300 DFL caucuses Tuesday, an effort promoted by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota.

At St. Paul's Central High School, Henry Lippman worried that the proposed voter ID amendment will disenfranchise students, minorities and the elderly.

"I just feel that on a national basis, there's been an effort on the part of some groups to intentionally limit the votes of people they assume may vote in opposition to them," he said.

Staff writers Pat Doyle, Jennifer Brooks, and Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042

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