One of the current hot button issues in Minnesota is Voter ID. There are bills in the state house and the state senate which would modernize registration and record keeping, and require photo identification at the polls. Critics of the plan speculate it may disenfranchise voters in peculiar situations, such as women living in domestic violence shelters.
Such criticism only accounts for one kind of disenfranchisement, access to the polls in unusual circumstances. It ignores the extent to which voters are currently disenfranchised by the fraud enabled by the system.
In Minnesota, we have an unholy trinity of provisions which invite fraud. We do not require photo identification at the polls. We have same-day registration which may not get verified for up to six months after an election. Perhaps most egregious, we let each voter who is registered vouch for up to 15 who are not.
In defense of such vouching, State Senator Steve Simon (DFL) evokes the scenario of group homes and senior communities where residents are not always in possession of identification or have not registered to vote. These people, Simon argues, may be disenfranchised if the staff at those facilities are not able to vouch for them.
This raises a question which must be expressed delicately. If people are not possessed of the cognition, motivation, and foresight to obtain identification and register to vote, how can they choose which candidate to vote for?
This question was highlighted on Tuesday by a report of alleged misconduct in a Minnesota group home. A mentally disabled resident was exploited in order to commit voter fraud, according to an affidavit signed by his father.
Jim Stene, 35, suffers from anoxic encephalopathy, severe brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. He has lived with the condition since 1987, when, as a 12-year-old boy, he jumped into a river to save the life of his drowning sister, Heather.
Stene had spent the last 15 years living in a group home in Brainerd, Minn. He and other residents of the home were taken to the Crow Wing County auditor’s office on Oct. 29 to vote by absentee ballot. Minnesota is among the states that offer early voting by absentee ballot days before Election Day.
In an affidavit, Stene’s father charges that “a voter crime was committed … because James is mentally incompetent and is very coachable.”
Stene told a reporter he thought he was voting for Gerald Ford.
I ask you. How was any voter whose ballot was canceled by Stene’s less disenfranchised than if they could not vote at all?
As it turns out, the peculiar circumstance game works both ways. Therefore, the question is whether the proposed modernization provides a better control against disenfranchisement. To this point, the answer is clear. If fraud can occur without us knowing about it, as it allegedly did in the Stene case, then there is no accounting for how much fraud has occurred. Conversely, under the proposed Voter ID system, it would be quite obvious whenever someone who was eligible to vote was denied the opportunity. That knowledge would enable contingency, whereas the current system does not.
This leaves another uncomfortable question. Why would anyone be opposed to such transparency?