MN Churches Unite to Oppose Voter Restriction Amendment

On the steps of Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota Council of Churches announced that they were joining the coalition of groups opposing the constitutional amendment to restrict voting rights. The MCC represents upwards of 1 million Minnesotans from the following denominations:

 

  • African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • American Baptist Churches USA
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Church of God in Christ
  • Church of the Brethren
  • The Episcopal Church
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • Mennonite Church
  • Moravian Church
  • National Association of Congregational Christian Churches
  • National Baptist Convention
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • United Church of Christ
  • and United Methodist Church.

Republicans want to eliminate same-day registration, absentee balloting and impose a new, expensive voter verification system. Almost all of the details would have to be figured out and passed into law by the next legislature in 2013.

This is part of a national effort by Republicans to suppress voting by Democratic-leaning demographic groups like students and minorities so that Republican candidates can win more electoral victories both locally and nationally.

"We are calling upon our congregations and members to have conversations and be vigorously engaged to defeat the Voter ID amendment," said Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the statewide council.

"The board of the regional governing and administrative bodies of Mainline Protestant, Historic Black and Greek Orthodox churches does not lean politically left or right," said Peter Rogness, bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and president of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

"We stand opposed to the Voter ID amendment because as communities of faith we lean towards those on the margins of society, those often overlooked by the mainstream, those left voiceless in the decisions that affect their lives."

The MCC's complete analysis below the fold ...

Minnesota Council of Churches Opposes the Voter ID Amendment
MCC's board opposes the amendment for the following reasons:

Citizenship
The amendment, if enacted, would create a fundamental shift in the understanding of how citizens grant power to government in exchange for their right to govern. Currently a citizen takes an oath when registering to vote, giving his or her word that voting eligibility standards have been met. The burden has been on the government to prove voter fraud and to prosecute such cases (which almost never occur on the basis of false identity, the only type of fraud this amendment is attempting to address). This amendment, if passed, will, for the first time, set up a government regulatory system that supplants a citizen's oath and burdens citizens to prove their right to vote. (The exact scope of this regulatory system will be set up by the legislature after the amendment is approved, leaving the amendment's impact to be unknown).

As a Christian organization, we affirm the principals of a participatory democracy which encourage people to join in the democratic process, engages in the great conversation of our democracy, and urges people to vote to help decide and define the future of our shared life as citizens. We have a role to safe-guard the right to vote.

Many citizens are retreating from the public square because political life is so contentious and overly partisan. Religious leaders and their communities should make every effort to emphasize shared wisdom and common themes to help Minnesotans build a sense of shared purpose, and to ameliorate the splintering for both organized religion and for political life.

Reduced Voter Accessibility
Reputable, non-partisan research is making it clear that the effect of Minnesota's proposed constitutional amendment on voter identification will disenfranchise thousands of Minnesota voters; perhaps hundreds of thousands.

Groups such as Lutheran Social Service, Catholic Charities, the Jewish Community Action Council, and many congregations and judicatories see this issue through the lens of social justice. These groups who follow Biblical teachings to care for the poor, homeless, elderly, disabled and transient, believe this amendment would disenfranchise the very people they work with to be recognized as full citizens.

Many groups such as those who are disabled, students, elderly, poor, or homeless, may find it challenging and expensive to obtain the documents needed to obtain the required voter ID. The oath citizens make under current law to vouch for another citizen is something that should not be denigrated, but actually lifted up as a matter of great importance.

Students should be encouraged into a lifetime of voting and broader engagement as citizens. But this bill will make it harder for them to vote because their photo ID will often not show their residency where they are attending college. We believe we should encourage, not discourage our youth and young adults in their first attempt to vote.

Fiscal Responsibility
We oppose the amendment as a matter of financial stewardship. The increased costs to the state and to local governments' budgets incurred by the proposed changes to Minnesota's voting regulations providing "free" voter picture IDs, and new voting stipulations such as provisional ballots should be used for more pressing needs within our state and communities. As this proposal is being considered, new technology is being developed that will be more effective in registering and identifying voters.

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