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Elections amendment and military personnel



By Cynthia Moothart

Policy Director,

League of Rural Voters

A national group dedicated to preserving the voting rights of military personnel recently praised Minnesota for its leadership, designating the state an All-Star as part of its Heroes Vote Initiative.

Such recognition represents a dramatic reversal in a long and disturbing trend that distinguishes us from the vast majority of states today. It also makes good on a campaign promise by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, whose office coordinates elections and voting.

Before 2006, Minnesota ranked near the bottom of all states in its number of military voters, despite leading the nation in overall turnout for 30-plus years.

The proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November threatens to undo these gains, and take away the right of democracy's defenders serving abroad from participating in elections here at home.

And Minnesota is home to roughly 20,000 active-duty soldiers and guardsmen and women, and more than 390,000 veterans, many who are elderly or otherwise would fall in meeting its requirements.

Unlike other states with such laws, the Minnesota proposal provides no exemptions for military personnel and their families. The same criteria for proving identity and residency would apply to troops serving elsewhere as those walking into their neighborhood precinct on Election Day. That includes the need to present an up-to-date state-issued photo ID with current address.

Nearly one-third of all service personnel, according to U.S. Census data, move on a yearly basis, a rate three times higher than the general population. And often, troops and their families are uprooted on a moment's notice.

A new report entitled Military Voting Update: A Bleak Picture in 2012 outlines the herculean effort by Ritchie to overcome significant structural barriers in defending the military vote, despite a federal law enacted in 2009 that, so far, has failed to ease his way.

The report, published by the Military Voter Protection Project and AMVETS Legal Clinic at Chapman University, concludes, "For too long, our men and women in uniform have been silenced in the electoral process." (The full report is available at www.Greater

MNCounts.org.)

Now is not the time for Minnesotans to turn a deaf ear.

The proposed constitutional amendment on elections is a bad deal for all of us, just considering its substantial implementation costs (see www.ceimn.org/news/cost-proposed-elections-amend

ment for a county-by-county breakdown).

Yet still, even those tens of millions in taxpayer dollars pale in comparison to the price we pay should our democracy be shut off to those who pledged their blood in its defense.

Cynthia Moothart is policy director of the League of Rural Voters, a Minnesota-based nonprofit working to strengthen nonprofit communities nationwide.