There is a certain perverseness for a state political party, that claims to hold the State Constitution in such reverence, to want to clutter that same sacred document with a bunch of nonsensical amendments.
When a Constitution needs amending, it is usually for very special reasons. Maybe to correct an unjust interpretation of ambiguous language; or to address a situation that cannot be fixed legislatively. The use of amending the Constitution was never meant to be a way of legislating on its own. Frankly, the mechanics of amendments in Minnesota is much too easy. One branch of government, the Legislature, with a simple majority vote, can bypass the other two branches of government. Although a vote of the citizenry is, in theory, a true democratic initiative, there is a danger of pushing an amendment to a vote before it has been thoroughly vetted in public discourse. The danger is even greater today when the money changers can buy public opinion.
During this session, the GOP majorities have taken the use of Constitutional amendments into a new realm. They have taken the one branch rule concept and utilized it as a tool of choice.
All of the current amendments under consideration, or already on the ballot, can be dealt with in much simpler ways and without defacing the state's founding document. Let's examine our ballot choices for this year:
1. The Marriage (Discrimination) Amendment. Although placed on the November ballot, this amendment has absolutely no reason to be there. Minnesota law already prohibits same sex marriage. Even though I disagree with it, the DOMA law addresses this situation specifically. Still our GOP legislative friends are not comfortable with the ability of this law to withstand court challenge. So they want to tie the hands of the court by making this same law a Constitutional amendment. Think of that, one branch of government, bypassing the Governor and overruling the judiciary.
The proponents of this amendment are not satisfied that the current generation of Minnesotans are locked into current law, they want to make sure that future generations are locked into it as well. They move forward with this, even with the growing evidence that the future could very well have a very different viewpoint on the discriminatory nature of current DOMA regulations. Nearly every poll on this subject has a generational split. Those over 60 support the amendment, those younger are overwhelming opposed to it.
This faulty process is much like the historical attempt, at the Federal level, to lock in the moral conviction of one generation's feelings about alcohol via the Prohibition amendment. Of course we all now know that this was a colossal failure and was repealed a few years later. Even if you favor the workings of the Marriage Amendment, it is grossly unfair to cement this into our Constitution. A document that has been held to the purpose of upholding individual rights, and thwarting discriminatory behavior, as part of its founding principles.
2. Photo ID for Voting. Even if you believe this is necessary, it is still not a valid reason for a Constitutional amendment. This needs to be dealt with legislatively. We have had a few attempts at a legislative remedy for this....one Democrat and one Republican. But the bills were never dealt with in a bi-partisan basis and two opposite party governors vetoed the respective legislation. But is that a reason to give up? Is that a reason to take one partisan answer and lock it into the Constitution? Absolutely not. It is the legislature's responsibility to find an acceptable compromise. To take this to amendment status is a failure of negotiation. If every failure of negotiation ends up as Constitutional issues, then we will have a flawed document indeed.
Before you vote YES on Photo ID (and polls indicate that a large number of you are so inclined), there are a few things to consider.
a) The language of this amendment is vague and will require 2013 legislative action to implement. Completely subject to whatever majority is in power next session. We simply do not know what will be done, but we do know that we will be locked into current technology because of the wording of this amendment. (It is worth reading Prof. David Schultz of Hamline's take on the validity of this amendment because he says the wording itself will force the amendment to be thrown out, even if passed.)
b) The costs of implementation are unknown. Ramsey County estimated that elections would cost an additional $1.7 million per biennium. And that is just one county. Who knows what furnishing "valid" Photo ID's free of charge (as the amendment requires) will cost Minnesota. The unknowns are numerous because the next legislature will have to turn the vague language into legislation....which again brings us back to the argument, shouldn't this have been done legislatively in the first place? And we haven't even discussed provisional voting, which would become a requirement under this law.
c) People will be disenfranchised. In order to correct a problem that minimally exists, we will be creating a problem which could have serious consequences on current voters. Depending on how it is implemented, students, the elderly, the poor, and people who have simply moved, could find themselves unable to exercise their voting rights on election day. More than likely, they would be forced into the world of provisional voting and will never really know if their vote has actually counted.
We have tinkered with our State Constitution via the amendment process more than we should have in the past. Even the Legacy Amendment that was passed recently should have been vetted more in the legislature before moving to an amendment status. Minnesota's process of amending the Constitution is easier than Federal changes to the US Constitution and easier than many other states for their own Constitutions. Too easy. The temptation has been much too great for a legislature, determined to stick to a strict partisan agenda, to utilize the amendment process. When legislative compromise is thwarted as the preferable option, then pushing that agenda around the governor or around the courts has now become the option of choice...at least for this GOP majority.
It is a wrong agenda. It is wrong for the future of Minnesota; wrong for its future citizens; and wrong for our sacred state document. We need to just Vote No on all amendments....to protect the Minnesota Constitution.
-Dave Mindeman writes on progressive issues at mnpACT!