By Eric Jayne
Editorial. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of Eric Jayne and are not necessarily those of Minesota Atheists.
Voters will be going to their polling place in just a couple of weeks. Besides voting for state legislators, U.S. legislators, and president, Minnesotans will also be voting on two constitutional amendments. One of the amendments is unfairly restrictive and based on mythical beliefs that breeds—and stems from—irrational fear. The other amendment would constitutionally ban same sex marriage.
Of course, the anti-marriage amendment is horribly restrictive and has its own myth-based, fear-mongered roots but the atheist case against it appears more obvious. That’s why I want to take a moment to discuss the proposed voter restriction amendment from the critically thinking atheist perspective. My feeling is that the voter restriction amendment conflicts with the skeptical point of view and humanistic values.
Before I make my case, allow me to first explain that as with the anti-marriage amendment, the voter restriction amendment is officially a non-partisan issue. Even though tax-exempt 501 (c)3 non-profits can legally take positions on voter restriction, Minnesota Atheists has not. They have, however, taken a position that opposes the anti-marriage amendment and it’s celebrated on this year’s popular t-shirt design that proclaims “Minnesota Atheists supports Marriage Equality”.
The other thing I want to make clear is that I am speaking only for myself and my views do not necessarily reflect an official position of the Minnesota Atheists. Now, let’s get on with it…
The three biggest issues with the voter restriction amendment are:
1) It’s spending a lot of money to solve a non-existent problem.
2) The language of the proposed amendment is vague and unclear.
3) It could likely disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.
Beginning with the first issue, you might remember the 2008 senatorial and 2010 gubernatorial statewide elections. Both of these elections led to exhaustive, litigious recounts where thousands of ballots and voter rolls were scrutinized. One of the recurring claims made by voter ID proponents is that over a thousand felons voted illegally and that Minnesota leads the nation in voter fraud. As skeptics, we should be asking, what and where is the good evidence for this?
There is evidence, but it’s bad and poorly extrapolated. It’s based on matching the names of felons from criminal records to names on the voter rolls. So if the name “John Smith” appears on the list from criminal records and the name “John Smith” appears on the voter rolls: Voila! That’s a possible felon who voted. Not only was it uncertain that the correct John Smiths were being matched, but it was also unknown which felons had reduced probations that would have restored their voting rights.
If we parse through the slop of bad information and pull out the facts, we will understand that 156 convicted felons (not thousands) have been prosecuted since 2008 for illegally registering to vote. Before we start mandating voter restriction laws that would prevent tens of thousands of residents from voting, it would do us good to understand that there were about 5 million votes cast since 2008. That means that the number of felons voting illegally is about 0.003 percent—or 3 out of every 100,000. Unlike disenfranchising large numbers of voters, this hardly constitutes a "problem".
According to a recent billboard near Albertville that depicted a large foam hand with an extended index finger, the state of Minnesota is “#1 in Voter Fraud.” How did the voter ID supporters come up with that claim? They used the results from the aforementioned recount investigations. One rather significant detail that doesn’t get mentioned is that there is no other study or investigation from any other state to compare findings with because no other state has had two recent statewide recounts.
This is like me saying that I’m number one in chess because I routinely beat my 9-year-old son at the game. I haven’t compared and tested my skills against anyone else but I remain undefeated. The burden is bogusly placed on others to prove the claim wrong. Without having a similar study to compare with, the billboard may as well have said, “Minnesota is #1 in Coldest Snow.”
The reasons for the voter restriction amendment are based on a myth; or at the very least they’re based on overstated, unproven hyperbole. It’s also important to note that the voter restriction amendment would do nothing to stop ineligible felons from voting and, maybe even more importantly, there has not been a single prosecution of voter impersonation in Minnesota.
In regards to the language of the proposed amendment, it’s incredibly vague and short on specifics. For example, voters are asked to approve a requirement mandating that voters present a valid, government issued ID. This appears to mean that students attending private colleges wouldn’t be able to use their school IDs as they can now; and, if you recently moved, your picture ID could be invalid if it hasn’t been updated with your current address. Many of our elderly neighbors living in nursing homes would need to take on the burdensome and expensive task of tracking down their birth certificates and other documents in order to get an updated, valid government-issued picture ID. Furthermore, the language doesn’t specify what, exactly, will be determined as “valid” and there’s no mention of how it will affect absentee voting. Policy makers tell us to trust them to flesh out the details next year—AFTER we vote on the amendment. It seems unreasonable to my skeptical senses to ask voters to tweak the state constitution without knowing the important details first.
One of the greatest features of the Minnesota Atheists is that it is a very open and transparent group that encourages all of our members to vote, share ideas, and serve on the board or at some other leadership capacity. We encourage active citizenship and celebrate diversity in and out of our organization. As with the Minnesota Atheists organization, our nation’s governance works best when participation is not subjected to unnecessary, repressive restrictions due to superstitious and paranoid beliefs.
For these reasons I will vote NO on both restrictive amendments in November.