Voting Rights Should Have Been Resolved During Civil Rights Era

Click on Photo to Hear Why Voting Rights Should Already Have Been Won in the 1960s

An attack on voting rights is an emotional issue for Dr. Josie Johnson, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Johnson spoke about the consequences of Voter Photo ID legislation during a town hall meeting earlier this month in St. Louis Park sponsored by Congressman Keith Ellison.

“This is an issue that should have been resolved, and was, in 1965,” explained Johnson. “It’s a constitutional right for people to vote. The rational for this (Voter Photo ID amendment) is simple: it’s to deny people who have, in many cases, control of the numbers and the encouragement of exercising their right — to deny them that opportunity.”

Iraq War veteran and Ellison re-election campaign worker Alex Erickson echoed Johnson’s words.

“I felt that the great progress of the 20th century was expanding our franchise, because of people like Dr. Johnson,” he said. “That’s part of our Minnesota tradition, expanding the right to vote. I think it’s very un-Minnesotan to try to contract the vote — to try to restrict people’s ability to vote.”

Many who spoke from the crowd at the town hall meeting at Sabes Jewish Community Center thought that Voter Photo ID would adversely impact the needy.

“This is about disenfranchising the fringes of our society,” said a great granddaughter of a separatist. “It takes an immense amount of work for them to even conceive of voting. It takes a lot of effort for everyone except the privileged like us sitting in this room.”

One St. Louis Park resident spoke of his mother, 93-year-old Virginia Lehmann, whose farm helped feed U.S. troops during the Second World War. She has no driver’s license, no passport or government ID, and she recently moved into a nursing home close to her daughter, which is far from her county of birth. Since macular degeneration has claimed much of her sight, running to the courthouse to get a birth certificate wouldn’t be easy.

“She’s not gonna be allowed to vote if this thing passes because she has no Voter ID, though she’s been working her whole life for this country,” said Lehmann’s son. “If you have a grandparent, or a parent or a great aunt, or a friend in a nursing home or a friend who’s a senior, they’re not gonna be allowed to vote if this thing goes forward.”

Some in the crowd viewed the Voter Photo ID amendment as a cynical political ploy by Republicans.

A 69-year-old man who took part in the Civil Rights voter registration drive in the South, and lost friends during the violence that they faced, joked that the title to this November’s Voter Photo ID amendment should be changed to: “Shall the Constitution be modified to make it more difficult for Democrats to vote?”

Another called the notion that we need this amendment to prevent voter fraud as big a lie as the weapons of mass destruction that took us into Iraq. “This is there for the purpose of keeping people who don’t vote Republican from voting,” he said. “Any other explanation is a lie, and that’s the message that we have to convey between now and November.”

One woman held up the July edition of Mother Jones, which proclaimed, “You’re more likely to spot a flying saucer than a lying voter.”

“There are so many seniors, so many low-income people, so many students, so many people who lose a license, so many servicemen and women, for so many people it’s not (easy),” said Congressman Keith Ellison. “So we’re asking people to stop saying it’s true because it’s true for me. What’s true for you is not necessarily true for everyone. The way it’s been working is working, so we don’t need to change it, so all this stuff about fraud is lies.”

See related stories Voter Photo ID Dissuades Rural Poor From Voting, Says Mexican-American, Voter Photo ID a “Huge Step Backwards” for Voting Rights of Disabled Minnesotans and Iraq War Vet Sees Voting Rights Under Fire at Home.

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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