Voters may not realize it, but they scored some wins in the legislative session that just wrapped up. Come the August primary (did you forget?), veterans for the first time will be able to use their federally issued veterans ID as primary identification. That could benefit more than 100,000 vets in Minnesota, according to the secretary of state’s office. Now, many of those vets probably have driver’s licenses, but if there is a way to make voting easier for anyone, those who have served their country in uniform should be first in line. At a time when other states are putting up barriers to voting, Minnesotans should be proud that their state is broadening access for eligible voters.
There were other small victories, too, which serve in part to remind us how easily impediments to voting can be wiped away — and how much further we have to go. Those who vote absentee in person (yes, that’s a thing) now will be able to feed the ballot into a voting machine themselves, instead of having to hand it off to a clerk. It’s hard to understand why that wasn’t always permitted, but voters should appreciate being able to do it themselves.
Reaching out to new Americans and empowering them to exercise their right to vote is an important value in a democracy, and the secretary of state’s office is right to start providing voter information in Oromo, Laotian, Cambodian, Mandarin and Amharic. Never heard of Amharic? It is the official language of Ethiopia, with 22 million native speakers around the world. Voter materials in those languages will be available by November.
Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services in Brooklyn Park, said that his organization is active in voter outreach and that having information available in native languages “is a huge help for African immigrants in Minnesota. Huge.”
Here’s a goal we’d like to see the Legislature tackle: Preregistration for high school students. Secretary of State Steve Simon would like Minnesota to become the 23rd state to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister, so they’re ready to vote as soon as they turn 18. Minnesota is ideal for such an effort to foster voter awareness early, while students are still in high school and teachers can build it into the curriculum. Red and blue states have such preregistration, and Minnesota should be one of them.
To give high schoolers a taste of the real thing, the secretary of state’s office will sponsor Minnesota’s first statewide student mock election this October. Nearly 150 high schools have signed up and will get mock ballots, posters, sample lesson plans and even the “I voted” stickers. Students will be able to cast ballots in the presidential race, and have their votes tabulated and results posted by Nov. 1.
Young people should be excited about exercising one of the most cherished rights in our democracy, and it’s incumbent on adults to foster that.