Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

By Ben Karkela
Bemidji Pioneer 

Panel educates about voter ID


A discussion on proposed legislation that would require registered voters to provide government-issued photo identification with a current address in order to vote took place Thursday at Bemidji State University’s American Indian Resource Center.

The discussion was put on by the Minnesota Voting Rights Coalition in order to educate residents in the area on the impact the legislation would have on rural Minnesotans. The coalition is going statewide, teaching people about the harm it says would come from a requirement for a photo ID in order to vote.

“For our region, it is critical that we provide education for our communities up here,” Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project Coordinator Audrey Thayer said.

The panel discussion for understanding voter suppression included Terry Kalil of the League of Women Voters, Carolyn Jackson of the American Civil Liberties Union, Claire Wilson of the Office of the Secretary of State, Kathy Bonnifield of the Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota and Sally Fineday of the Native Vote Alliance of Minnesota.

The legislation is designed to protect against voter fraud. The main concern of the Minnesota Voting Rights Coalition is that it would prevent people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.

Jackson spoke about the concerns she has and why the ACLU opposes voter ID.

The state is interested in regulating voting to ensure that a voter is eligible and that a voter votes only once in a single election. The ACLU, however, has not found any evidence of voter fraud in its research.

“What’s driving this is a sense of fear and exploitation of that fear,” Jackson said.

The ACLU of Minnesota opposes the bill because it creates barriers to voting, especially for senior citizens, young people and American Indians, which means residents in rural Minnesota could be greatly affected.

If voter ID becomes law in Minnesota, then people without a current driver’s license, Minnesota ID card or voter ID card will not be able to vote.

This could create problems for many people in the greater Bemidji area, not just nationwide. The proposal does not list tribal ID as an acceptable form of ID to vote. A person would have to use a tribal ID to get a Minnesota ID before being allowed into the polls.

Other groups, such as the elderly who no longer drive and people who move frequently without always updating their driver’s license would face additional obstacles in order to vote. Residents in rural areas who live far away from the county auditor’s office or the Department of Motor Vehicles would have to drive a long way to ensure they are able to vote.

“The importance for us in northern Minnesota is that we are rural. We have disabled, elderly and Native American populations,” Thayer said. “Over 5,000 people may be disenfranchised if this moves forward.”

Jackson said that the ACLU conservatively estimates that 144,000 people in Minnesota would lose the ability to vote if the legislation passes.

“Voting is not a privilege,” Jackson said. “It is a right.”


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