St. Paul, Minn.—April 29, 2011—Today, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie testified before the House Government Operations and Elections Committee to express his opposition to amending the Minnesota Constitution in ways that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who now vote by mail, use absentee ballots, and who register to vote on Election Day.
Secretary of State Ritchie reminded committee members that: “Under our current Constitution, voting is a right. This amendment is an attempt to make voting a privilege.”
Secretary Ritchie, quoting former Governors Pawlenty and Carlson, further described the dangers that efforts to change election laws without broad bi-partisan support in the legislature present to the public’s trust in our election system. As Republican Governor Carlson said: “Significant changes to election law are too important to be entirely one-sided and lacking in bipartisanship.”
Secretary Ritchie also responded to the oft-quoted assertion that there is “widespread fraud” in Minnesotans elections. He argued that ”after two high profile recounts where millions of dollars were spent in a valiant attempt to find voter fraud, those highly motivated lawyers and investigators came to one conclusion – ‘not a whiff of fraud’.” Further, he pointed out that Minnesota is by far the national leader in voter turnout because our citizens’ trust in our system and this trust has deepened as a result of the successful recounts.
Finally, invoking the 150th commemoration of the start of the Civil War, and the fact that Minnesotans were the first to volunteer when President Lincoln put out a call for troops to defend the Union, Secretary Ritchie reminded committee members that: “replacing the right to vote with only a privilege to vote is not what those brave soldiers believed they were fighting for.”
He concluded: “I believe that patriots today still hold these truths to be self-evident – that our rights are not privileges – and that freedom and democracy are sacred – and they are for everyone.”
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s Written Testimony
Minnesota House Government Operations and Elections Committee
Friday, April 29, 2011, 8:30 a.m.
Thank you for this opportunity to address this proposed constitutional amendment. This is a very important question and I very much appreciate the careful attention that you are giving to this discussion.
Like each of you, I took an oath to uphold the Minnesota Constitution. Under our current Constitution, voting is a right. Under this amendment voting would become a privilege.
Voting rights have been the subject of constitutional debate at other times in our state’s history.
In the writing of our state’s Constitution in 1858, Democrats took away the right to vote from African-American men. For ten years the Minnesota Republican Party campaigned to restore those rights through the amendment process and was ultimately successful in 1868.
When other states were denying the right to vote to citizens based on their religious beliefs or country of origin, there were similar proposals, but they were rejected.
Like earlier efforts to deny the right to vote to African-Americans, German-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Roman Catholics, and Baptists this constitutional amendment should be rejected. Like poll taxes and literacy tests designed to make it very hard for some to exercise their right to vote, this proposal does not meet basic standards of equal protection under the law.
Governor Pawlenty was eloquent about the dangers of proposals like this – attempts to change election laws without broad support from both sides of the aisle in the legislature. Governor Carlson went even further, stating that, even if he were satisfied with a proposal: “Significant changes to election law are too important to be entirely one-sided and lacking in bipartisanship.”
Proponents argue that this amendment is needed to prevent voter fraud. But after two high profile recounts where millions of dollars were spent in a valiant attempt to find voter fraud, those highly motivated lawyers and investigators came to one conclusion – “not a whiff of fraud.”
Others claim that although there are no real issues with voter fraud in Minnesota we need this amendment to lure people back to the polls – asserting that Minnesotans are not voting due to a perception of voter fraud. Given that we are the number one voting state in the nation, this argument seems to be difficult to sustain. In fact, we used to be 5% above the number two state and in the last election we went up to 6%. We are at 78% turnout in a presidential year. Do the facts justify abandoning the right to vote, adding millions of dollars to the budget deficit and making it nearly impossible for many in the Greatest Generation to continue to vote as they have for the past 60 years?
I have worked closely with a number of you and former Governor Pawlenty to make significant improvements in Minnesota election law, especially enhancing our systems so that our service men and women could exercise their right to vote. This Constitutional amendment would make it extremely difficult for many of our soldiers and others serving overseas to vote. Would Minnesotans want to take away the right to vote from those who are putting themselves in harm’s way for democracy and freedom?
Not only do we have very strong provisions in the Minnesota Constitution protecting the right to vote, we have Minnesota Supreme Court that has consistently come down on the side of protecting the right to vote whenever threatened.
For the state’s sesquicentennial I brought the Declaration of Independence to Minnesota for an exhibit at the History Center. Tens of thousands of Minnesotans had an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see with their own eyes our nation’s birth certificate. This next year, as part of our public education activities to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, I will bring the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the only original printing allowed to travel, here for a similar visit.
Like you, I take my oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of Minnesota very seriously. I believe that Constitutions are sacred documents, not for tweaking or twisting in order to turn rights into privileges.
Replacing the right to vote with only a privilege to vote is not what those brave volunteers who answered President Lincoln’s call believed they were fighting for. Throughout our nation’s history, brave men and women have sacrificed and died to defend liberty and justice, for all – not just for some. I believe that patriots today still hold these truths to be self-evident – that our rights are not privileges – and that freedom and democracy are sacred – and they are for everyone.
Thank you for this time and your attention.