Defend your right to vote

By Will Howell

Joseph Stalin famously said, “Elections are not won by those who cast the votes, but those who count them.” In America, the Secretaries of State control the elections process, and right here in Minnesota there is some indication that Comrade Stalin may have hit it on the nose.

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican up for reelection this year, wants to make it harder to vote. By saying that, I’m oversimplifying reality in order to grab your attention. The reality is that she really doesn’t want anyone who is not of her party to vote.

That’s why the Secretary of State’s office produced a new, more complicated and confusing voter registration card before the 2004 elections. Hennepin County (Minneapolis) and Ramsey County (St. Paul) wouldn’t bite though, and kept using the simpler federal election form. Kiffmeyer tried to get the US Attorney to take them to court, saying the counties were in violation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The US Attorney investigated, and discovered that not only were the counties safe within federal laws—they were doing exactly what HAVA prescribed.

Then there was her administrative rule, issued in August, 2004, saying that voters should be disqualified if their picture IDs did not exactly match the information on the Minnesota voter rolls. In other words, William Howell on an ID + Will Howell on the registration rolls = no vote for Mr. Howell. But this rule was never applied because an administrative judge ordered her to get rid of it.

And let’s not forget how she asked 2004 polling places to display a poster urging voters to be aware of potential “homicide bombers.” The posters alerted voters to be on the lookout for people wearing baggy clothing who have “shaved head[s] or short hair” and “smell of unusual herbal/flower water or perfume.” Many polling places refused to display the poster, citing its potential to incite racial profiling and frighten potential voters away.

If you think the national government made the poster because it feared potential attacks on elections day, you’re wrong. No other state made or distributed such a poster. Maybe Kiffmeyer was just being cautious, but I suspect there was method to her madness.

There was certainly method to her madness when she told Minnesota’s Native American tribes that she would no longer accept Tribal IDs from Native Americans living off-reservation. If this rule had gone through (it was overturned in US District Court), many of the 32,000 Native Americans living in the Twin Cities could not use their Tribal ID to register to vote.

Why would Kiffmeyer want to stop people from acting on their right to vote? By complicating the voter form, who keeps their right to vote? Literate people. Who loses? Illiterate people, who tend to be lower-class or immigrants, and tend to vote Democrat.

Who might stay home because of posters such as those described above? Maybe Arab Americans—who were expected, based on several high profile polls, to vote Democrat in 2004.

There are two glaring problems with this situation: first, we have a Secretary of State who is playing politics with her office. She is trying desperately to change the system in order to advance her party’s chances at victory. The right to vote in this democratic society is far too precious to dirty it with politics.

If this weren’t bad enough, she’s going about her political dirty work by restricting the right to vote based on race. I am not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that is a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment to our U.S. Constitution.

So what are we going to do about it? This year, Mary Kiffmeyer is up for reelection. As citizens of this country, as temporary (at least) residents of this state, as human beings, we must protect our right to vote. If we do not, we may find ourselves in a society where elections are decided by those who count the votes. In light of the current political climate, the consequences of such a society cannot possibly be good.