2012 Changemakers: League of Women Voters

Leading the charge against voter ID

This is the core of our organization’s 92-year history. The League of Women Voters was founded by women who fought very hard to have the right to vote. We needed to step up.”

That was how Laura Fredrick Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, explained her organization’s successful effort to defeat what it called the voter restriction amendment, commonly known as the voter ID amendment, which was on the November ballot. The measure received only about 46 percent of the vote, short of the more than 50 percent required to pass.

The issue was considered nonpartisan, as is the League. “It has nothing to do with parties and everything to do with our core mission to protect the right to vote,” Wang said.

The organization works to advocate for and educate all voters-and it saw the amendment as a woman’s issue. The elderly were one of the groups expected to be more heavily impacted-and the majority of the elderly are women. If a person had ever changed her name, she would have faced an extra hurdle of producing birth certificates and marriage licenses and perhaps divorce decrees to obtain the ID needed to vote. Victims of abuse living in shelters without a permanent address also had been a special concern.

The League also saw the amendment as unnecessary and a costly, unfunded government mandate.

The organization was party to a lawsuit aimed at removing the amendment from the ballot, believing that the question’s wording was misleading. However, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied that petition.

Meanwhile, the League took a lead in organizing a coalition of nonprofits to form the “Our Vote Our Future” campaign. They mobilized volunteers, held press conferences, distributed literature, produced a series of videos … and they talked.

“This was a campaign of conversations,” Wang said. “You really have to talk to friends and family. Ask ‘Have you seen the research?’ On the surface it sounds so simple, but we wanted to make sure people understood it.”

Volunteers took those conversations on the road to hundreds of forums in communities around the state. Some groups in support of the amendment targeted those events with harassers.

“They were really going after the integrity of the organization and our volunteers. But not one volunteer said she didn’t think she could do it or backed down when faced with that,” Wang said. “They were not just very courageous but very smart. … We made sure we didn’t let that intimidate us. Our volunteers were fierce. We all owe those women a huge thanks.”

According to Sherri Knuth, the League’s public policy manager, “a big surprise is that some people are likely to believe that voting is a privilege rather than a right.”

“Since our country’s founding, that right to vote has been expanded to include people who did not own property, former slaves, women,” she said. “Still with that history there is a belief among some that you should not be able to vote unless you have the kind of life that allows you to have a photo ID and have the resources to drive and get documents. I really believe that the right to vote belongs to everyone regardless of life situation.”

And although the amendment was defeated, what about going forward? “We need to remain aware of the challenges that we face and continue to advocate for individuals and let lawmakers know we want access to the voting booth to be strongly protected,” Knuth said.

FFI: To learn more, volunteer, find a local League near you or join go to www.lwvmn.org or call 651-224-5445.