Voter Photo ID a “Huge Step Backwards” for Voting Rights of Disabled Minnesotans

Click Photo to Hear Mai Thor Explain How Voter Photo ID Would Affect Disabled Minnesotans' Voting Rights

Interview by Allison Herrera, story by Jacob Wheeler

“People with disabilities have worked really hard (to encourage the Minnesota legislature) to pass good laws that make it easier for people with disabilities to vote. This would be a huge step backwards if this (Voter Photo ID) amendment is passed,” said Mai Thor, an advocate for the voting rights of disabled citizens and a community organizer for Congressman Keith Ellison’s re-election campaign.

Thor, who is wheelchair-bound, addressed a town hall meeting on Aug. 6 in Saint Louis Park about the consequences to disabled Minnesotans if the proposed Voter Photo ID constitutional amendment passes on the November ballot.

Securing Voter ID would require a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which is no easy feat for the disabled. Some rely on family for transportation. Others rely on public transportation or Metro Mobility, whose rides they must book five days ahead of time. Disabled citizens living in rural Minnesota have even fewer accessible modes of transportation, and little to no service available on weekends or evenings, making a Voter Photo ID requirement a burden that could prohibit them from voting altogether.

“My (automobile license) tabs were three months overdue, I had to go down to the DMV and it took all day. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like had I needed ID.”

Those who live in a group home or are under state guardianship would rely on a group home employee or a relative to transport them to the DMV to acquire state-issued Voter ID. Understaffed and overworked group homes are not always able to accommodate that need. Furthermore, said Thor, most individuals under state support don’t have access to the information they’d need to acquire a state-issued ID: that information is kept for them.

Interestingly, the lead instigator of the Voter Photo ID amendment on this November’s ballot, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (Republican) also sponsored unsuccessful legislation this year to limit guardianship voting. According to the Star Tribune, she is the guardian for her own disabled sister, and views the limits as a way of protecting vulnerable adults from being manipulated at the polling place.

“I think people forget the fact that people with disabilities are actually the country’s largest minority,” Thor added. “We cross boundaries: we can be any race or any age. You probably know someone or you yourself will probably acquire a disability sometime in your life.”

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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