To stop democratic backsliding, vote this November | Opinion

May 11, 2022 6:00 am

The writer argues that if turnout is strong in November, we can beat back surging anti-democratic forces. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The 2022 election in Minnesota will be very consequential for democracy. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party controls the House of Representatives and the governor’s office at present, and the Republicans control the state Senate. 

The legislative margins are small in both chambers. Many are predicting the possibility of a conservative trifecta, or control of both chambers and the governorship by the Republicans next year. This would mean a very different look for democracy and elections in our state for years to come. 

We are unlikely to see much election legislation passed and signed this year due to our split Legislature, but we have learned a lot about the intent of the political parties, based upon their votes.

This year the GOP-controlled Minnesota Senate has proposed and passed legislation that would suppress voting. This included the end of our nationally recognized same-day voter registration. Instead, voters would need to apply for an unnecessary picture ID and be subjected to an ineffective “provisional ballot” if they show up without it. The voter would need to later appear at the county auditor’s office to validate the ballot. This would discourage voters who lack access to a photo ID or the time to make a second trip to vote. 

Other Senate legislation offered this year includes making absentee ballot voting more difficult by prohibiting an agent submitting absentee ballots — from those who cannot make it to the polls, like nursing home residents — into a drop box. The bill also required drop boxes to be within 100 feet of the election office, which is hardly convenient for Hennepin County residents. Another provision mandated an expensive livestream of the counting of absentee ballots at an estimated cost of $4 million. All of this without any evidence of fraud in voting and at a cost to taxpayers.

And that’s not all of the democracy-busting legislation proposed. The Senate majority would prohibit private funding of election administration despite a demonstrated need. They would require ballots to have a unique watermark — for no apparent reason. And, they would mandate an absolute prohibition on ranked-choice-voting by cities, even though several have voted to conduct their elections in that more democratic way. The Republican majority has failed to give a hearing to a bill that provides for the protection of election officials from harassment. 

But, why stop there in 2023? In Texas, new legislation has driven rejection of 13% of mail ballots, an increase from 1-2% previously. And make that 19% in heavily Democratic Houston. Other states have engaged in a purge of voter rolls and opposed convenient mail-in voting. 

The past two years has seen a surging anti-democratic movement in our country. In addition to the traditional influence over elected officials using financial contributions, there has been a nationwide effort to make it harder to vote. The goal is to exclude those that are likely to vote against the right wing, such as the poor, minorities and students.

The antidote to this possible rush of anti-democratic legislation next year is a massive turnout of voters this fall. You just have to be 18 years old on Election Day, a U.S. citizen, and a resident of Minnesota for 20 days. 

It’s best to register to vote early, but in Minnesota you can register at the polls with proof of your name and address. You can register online with a Minnesota driver’s license, a Minnesota ID card or the last four numbers of your social security number. 

You may also apply to have an absentee ballot sent to you in the mail, and it can be mailed to you wherever you are in the world. You can vote by mail beginning 46 days before the election, and you can also vote in person early beginning Sept. 23 for the general election, at your city or county election office. You can find that office at the website cited above. 

Remember you are entitled by law to have time off from work to vote. 

Is the state of our democracy a matter of serious concern? We need to realize that there is no longer bipartisan support for democracy in our country. 

Consider how far we have drifted on democracy issues since November of 1981, when President Ronald Reagan said, “For this nation to remain true to its principles, we cannot allow any American’s vote to be denied, deleted, or defiled. The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.”  

It’s not only Trump supporters who seek to weaken democracy in favor of authoritarianism. Others are willing to weaken democracy to simply gain power for themselves and their political party, without regard to the wisdom of Reagan. 

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor observed that “the practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens.”  

The first step to preserve democracy is to vote and encourage others to do so.

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George Beck
George Beck

George Beck is a former chair of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and retired administrative law judge.