When Minnesota became a state in 1858, we failed to give black men the right to vote.
The legislator tried to fix that in 1865. It failed.
So they tried again in 1866. It failed.
So they tried again in 1867. It failed.
They tried once again in 1868, and this time it finally passed.
Two years later it became law across the nation with the ratification of the 15th amendment in 1870.
Progress is slow and full of failure.
So keep trying.
And when you do achieve progress, keep going. Don’t rest on your laurels: Minnesotans like to applaud all our progressive ways, but our disparity between whites and people of color are among the worst in the nation.
(A lesson pulled from a Black Suffrage in Minnesota presentation by Dr. William Green at Dakota County Libraries. Learn more about the passage of black suffrage in Minnesota in this article by Green from the Minnesota Historical Society.)
In a democratic country where the people are supposed to have a voice in government, the vote should be sacred. It is a right that we should protect and encourage. We need to ensure only citizens are voting, but there should be no other hurdles to the voting booth.
That’s why voting for the secretary of state is pretty important. They safeguard our elections and are the frontlines of democracy.
The State of Voting
I’m not a fan of anything that makes it harder to vote. There have been efforts around the country, from requiring IDs to closing polling stations, to make it harder to vote. I shouldn’t have to remind people that these are similar to Jim Crow-era efforts to stifle the black vote through poll taxes, tests, intimidation, and all-out cheating.
Let’s be clear: Voter fraud is not a widespread problem. When Trump talked about millions of illegal votes, he was making it up. Study after study has shown this to be true.
It’s voter suppression, plain and simple. And anytime a political party wants to see fewer people vote, you should be worried.
Instead of making it harder to vote, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier to vote. I’m thrilled that Minnesota has same-day registration and now no-excuse absentee and early voting. I’m a big fan of even more efforts to make it easier to vote, such as automatic voter registration and a national holiday on election day (though honestly, going to work is a nice distraction on election day).
Presidential election night is such a nervous, glorious mishmash of emotions. I can think of no other event when something so big is decided so quickly. Sure, the election drags on forever, but despite the polls you never know for sure who’s going to win. Then everybody votes, we tally ’em up while some talking heads blather on, and it’s decided (usually: thank goodness for not repeating 2000). Done. The next four years are in place. History is written.
In the midst of the political season I find myself wavering between complete fascination with the political process and utter dread that it will never be over. Facebook usually only encourages the latter, but earlier this year I noticed something interesting. I recently found my long lost high school writing teacher, Janice Mekula Golding, on Facebook. When she wasn’t posting about glorious retirement in Grand Traverse County, Michigan, she was talking about going door-to-door and canvassing for the election.
A political door knocker? Yikes. I hate it when those people come to my door.
But then I started wondering: Why does she do it? Does it actually work? How many people actually listen and how many slam the door? Seemed like an opportunity to learn a bit about the world of volunteer political campaigning. I found it fascinating and encouraging. Maybe next time I’ll actually listen to the political campaigner who knocks on my door.
OK, let’s start with the basics: Who are you going door to door for? How often have you done it?
Janice Mekula Golding: I’m currently going door-to-door for the Democratic candidate for Michigan House in Grand Traverse County, a peripatetic little Energizer Bunny named Betsy Coffia. I got my training in 2007-2008 as a full-time volunteer for Barack Obama in 13 states, where I probably knocked 200 to 400 doors per day, 10-15 times per month. My current campaign has held a canvass at least every other week since June, with a different purpose each time.
Why? Why door knocking as a political strategy?
Janice: Door-knocking is as old as campaigning itself, based on the principle that one smile is worth a thousand brochures or a hundred phone calls. The benefit of the personal testimonial is well known in advertising. If your neighbor raves about her new dentist, you’ll be more likely to go there than if you read about it on the Internet.
What does it look when you’re going door to door? What do you say to people? What are you hoping to get them to do?
Janice: The experience of going door-to-door varies from day to day, depending on the neighborhood and the campaign objective. A new candidate will need to gauge and/or establish name recognition: “Hi, I’m Jan from over in the Old Mission neighborhood. Have you heard of that awesome new woman who’s challenging Wayne Schmidt for State Rep in our district?” We record the answers on a check sheet to be entered into our computer database for analysis and appropriate strategizing. Another canvassing session may concentrate on determining which issues are most important to voters, and clarifying our candidate’s position on those issues, even offering to research the topic and report back or have the candidate give the voter a call (in a small, local race). Later in a campaign, the goal is ensuring that our friendlies are registered and know where and when to vote. In training, we emphasize to our volunteers that door-knocking is merely sharing our enthusiasm and personal stories with neighbors (or fellow concerned citizens, if we’re out of our own locality). Often, the most effective political strategy is simply to listen. Believe it or not, most people are receptive or at least polite. Especially when it’s raining.
Is this actually effective? Are you changing people’s minds?
Janice: This technique can be highly effective, if organized correctly. Preparation and training are key. If the campaign has access to a database of voter information, certain demographics can be targeted in advance (registered Democrats or Independents, age range, those who voted in recent primaries, those who pledged to vote for us, etc.). Volunteers must be familiarized with the candidate’s background and positions, the objective of the particular canvass, and principles of safety. Often, a canvasser’s job is not to change minds, but to disseminate and collect information.
Janice: Door-knocking horror stories abound, from unleashed dobermans to unleashed racists. One of my colleagues was tackled to the turf by a 6-foot tumbleweed in Butte, Mont.! My personal favorite was the home sporting a poster of gun sight cross hairs reading, “If you can read this—you are in range.” Needless to say, I backed off that porch. Slowly. With my hands up.
What was your best door knocking experience?
Janice: Best experiences? I couldn’t pick just one! From the Massachusetts voter who left me with a bag of Granny Smith apples and a home-baked pie, to the disabled man who told me tearfully that no candidate had ever sent a canvasser deep into his wooded cabin to ask his opinion about handicap access problems in Keene, N.H., to the Texas senior citizen with an oxygen tank at her side, a lit cigarette dangling from her lips, and a hyper-kinetic poodle who liked his dog biscuits pre-chewed, door-knocking is one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences of my life. (And yes, I did pre-chew. Hey, she was busy filling out her absentee ballot for Barack Obama.)
What has all that door knocking accomplished?
Janice: What have all of our blisters accomplished? Well, Betsy Coffia went from a social worker with a 4.5 percent name recognition to the landslide winner of the Democratic primary, over a candidate backed by the county Democratic Party. And oh yeah—there’s that guy in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue…
With the election just days away I’m getting lost in the many fascinating layers of presidential politics. Two are especially fun: the possibility of a tie and the way the electoral college works.
It’s a Tie!
First up, the New York Times has a neat little map showing the 512 possible outcomes in the presidential election based on nine battleground states (don’t you just love how the other 41 states are a foregone conclusion?). Of those potential paths, 421 lead to an Obama victory, 76 to a Romney victory and five to a tie.
That’s right, all this campaigning and we could end up with a tie.
But don’t worry, the 12th amendment addresses such a possibility. The House of Representatives gets to pick the president (but with an odd, one vote per state delegation rule) and the Senate picks the vice president. Based on which parties control which chambers, we’d most likely end up with President Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden. Now there’s a wacky pair.
But the 12th amendment isn’t actually that simple. It not only speaks to a tie, but a case where no one gets a majority of the electoral votes. This scenario happens when there are more than two parties winning electoral votes. It’s only happened once in history, 1824, when Andrew Jackson received 99 electoral votes, John Quincy Adams got 84, William H. Crawford got 41 and Henry Clay got 37, all shy of the 131 needed at the time. Based on the complex rules of the 12th amendment, the top three electoral vote getters can be considered by the House, so Clay was out. He threw his support to Adams, and the House eventually elected Adams as president.
Upside Down Victory
Which brings us to the other wacky issue with our presidential election system: the details of the electoral college. As you probably remember only vaguely, the president is not chosen by a simple majority of citizens, but by the electoral college, a bizarre quirk of representational democracy where we don’t vote for a candidate but for people who will vote for a candidate. It’s left over from the days when we didn’t trust the common citizen. Hmm…
Each state has a certain number of electors and the winner of a state gets all the electoral votes for that state. It’s all or nothing. Which means the popular vote is practically meaningless. This is where it gets crazy.
A fun little video details how the electoral college works and showcases that someone could win the presidency with only 22% of the popular vote. All it takes is winning in a bunch of small states by a single vote. That’s right, more than three-fourths of the nation could vote against someone and they could still win the presidency. Watch it for yourself:
But surely that won’t happen, right? As the election of 2000 has shown us, anything can happen. Thankfully, we’ve been through it in recent history and the country didn’t come apart at the seams.
What About Popular Vote?
Oddly enough, we also weren’t motivated to change our system. Frankly, it seems like a straight popular vote might be simpler. It sure would have made social studies class a lot easier. It also might result in more equitable campaigning with candidates visiting all states and not just the swing states. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is one attempt to do away with the popular vote over the electoral system and the Wikipedia article includes plenty of pros and cons. The method they use is even more complicated though, relying on the fact that state legislatures decide how their electoral votes are cast, so the compact says that when a majority of states sign on, they will assign their electoral votes based on the popular vote, regardless of the result in their own state. Seems like it’d be easier to just pass a Constitutional amendment, like the Every Vote Counts Amendment, though it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Sheesh. Presidential elections are way too complicated. Is it Tuesday yet?
I’ve tried (at length) to write about the marriage amendment in Minnesota without success. I did manage to write about how their language offends me (since then I’ve seen ads touting “real” marriage?!), but I haven’t written directly about the amendment. I’ll try now (and it’s my last “here’s where I stand” post of the election cycle, I swear).
For all the articles I’ve read and back and forth arguments I’ve considered (enough to make your head spin), I think this is the strongest issue for me (and it stands regardless of your views on homosexuality).
“This is not an amendment to Christianity. It is an amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution. We live in a pluralist society, not a theocracy. So while it may be important for Christians to debate Christian perspectives on marriage, it is not fair to force all Minnesotans to have the same ideals. Whether we like it or not, not all Minnesotans are Christians. Forcing religious ideals on non-believers is a violation of the separation of church and state. And, to use Alexis de Tocqueville’s words, it is a tyranny of the majority. What happens when the majority of Minnesotans are no longer Christian? Are we willing to accept the precedent this amendment sets – that the dominant religion can force their beliefs into law? If not, we suggest voting NO.”
Thank you for putting words to the argument I’ve been having in my head for the last decade.
I think it’s sad that this whole issue is about protecting the sanctity marriage from people who want to get married. Meanwhile few are protecting the sanctity of marriage from the ones already married and getting divorced. If you want to be pro marriage, put your effort into helping marriages, not passing laws.
My usual disclaimer: I’ve been leery to discuss politics this year, mainly because I’ve seen a lot of people I once respected making fools of themselves on Facebook. I don’t want to be that person. So I’m trying to talk politics without being a jackass. Hopefully I’m getting there.
In 2008 I explained why I was voting for Barack Obama. I wish I’d written similar posts in 2004 and 2000. Though it’s entirely possible I was so unexcited about candidates in those elections that I wouldn’t have bothered.
Before going any further, it’s worth pointing to my 2008 post, Here’s Where I Stand: Let’s Disagree Well. Part of why politics is so caustic is that we fail to recognize where we stand on issues. If you’re socially conservative and I’m socially liberal, of course we’re going to disagree on a lot of social issues. Instead of getting mad over statements about specific policy stances, sometimes it’s easier to recognize those underlying positions and just agree to disagree.
Which is why these discussions are hard and tend to turn people off. In some cases there’s not a lot to discuss. But I do think it’s important to talk about where we stand and why. To explain our position. To exercise our democracy. And to hopefully do so in a humble and respectful way. That’s the foundation of everything we hold dear.
I’ve been so leery of discussing politics this year that I’ve hardly said anything. That’s probably a little extreme as well. We need to learn how to discuss politics in a way that doesn’t resort to Facebook jackassery. I’m trying to learn how to communicate about these touchy issues in a way that’s actually useful. I hope you can cut me some slack.
Minnesota has two amendments on the ballot this year: anti-gay marriage and voter ID. I’ve said my piece (sort of: no!) on the marriage amendment. Now let’s talk voter ID.
In general, I’m not a fan of voter restrictions. I think it should be easy to vote. I’m proud of the incredible voter turnout in Minnesota (77.8% in 2008, best in the nation by far). Restrictions on voting smack of poll taxes and all the sleazy efforts to suppress the vote during the civil rights era.
However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people to verify who they are when they vote. Showing some sort of ID, provided we make accommodations, doesn’t seem like a ridiculous restriction.
So I’m willing to consider voter ID.
Unfortunately, the amendment being considered in Minnesota doesn’t do a good job. It doesn’t really do anything. It doesn’t answer any questions or spell out how our new voter ID system will work. The amendment leaves that job to the legislature.
So when both sides argue about what the voter ID amendment will or won’t do, they’re wrong (unless they tell you we don’t know). The pro-voter ID folks give all kinds of lovely answers about how issues will be addressed. The problem is they’re basing their answers on legislation that was vetoed. We don’t really know how voter ID will be implemented or what kind of reasonable accommodations will be made.
All we’re doing is voting whether or not somebody else should decide. Since we don’t know what they’ll decide, I’d rather have no voter ID than bad voter ID.
Here’s a video from MPR explaining exactly that. It struck me as incredibly biased toward anti-voter ID until I realized they didn’t say a word pro or con about voter ID itself. They’re merely explaining exactly what the amendment does and doesn’t do. That’s more than the campaign sites have done, so hats off to MPR.
So I say vote no on voter ID. If we’re going to have voter ID, let’s make sure we do it right. Let’s not force ourselves into it and possibly muck it up.
What do you think about voter ID? Have you ever had problems voting?
On election day, amid the frenzy of last minute plugs and flurry of civic-minded joy, I came across a simple little website that I just love. Before linking I want to qualify this for two reasons: 1) It’s full of the f-word, which might put some people off. So fair warning. 2) It’s all pro Obama, which might put some more people off. More fair warning.
But in spite of both of those things, I think the site is really cool. I share it regardless of politics and profanity because I think it’s an interesting idea. I actually waited until after the election to let the partisan nature wear off a bit. It’s still there, but it feels easier to look past today than it would have been on election day.
The site is called What The F*ck Has Obama Done So Far? and it’s just a slide show of one-sentence accomplishments. Each accomplishment has a source link and then a button to see the next accomplishment. It’s an ingenious little way to tell a story of simple achievements. Instead of drowning people in paragraphs of text on every issue, it’s just one little snippet of factual text.
Now I realize some folks will likely take issue with each bit of “factual” text, because that’s what we do, nit-picking every statement as spin and adding our own counter-spin. But I think the basic idea does what it needs to. Some sort of way to engage those nit-pickers and add a little more explanation or context might be helpful (but that might also ruin the simplicity of the whole thing). It’s not a perfect idea, but it’s a lot more effective than any political website I’ve ever seen.
Bottom line: I love the idea of taking something as complex and off-putting as politics and phrasing it in simple one-liners of actual accomplishment that anyone can understand. That’s powerful communication.
“So here is us, on the raggedy edge. Don’t push me and I won’t push you.”
I think that quote from the beginning of Serenity sums up my life nicely right about now. Too bad I’m feeling pushed.
Moving on to better things.
Today is the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. It’s hard to believe that before 1920 women couldn’t vote in this country.
And my friend Mark Horvath is traveling the country again, telling the stories of the homeless. Today he told us about Johnny (or is it Jimmy?Update: It’s Johnny), a disabled veteran who needs $350 to get his mobile home out of the impound. You can help by making a donation. Here’s the full story on what happened to Johnny.