Monday afternoon the MN Supreme court handed down two rulings that impact the fall election. 2 proposed Constitutional amendments are on the ballot, a Voter-ID-and-Suppress-Democratic-Turnout-Amendment, and a Marriage-is-Only-One Man-One-Woman-At-a-Time (Fingers-Crossed) Amendment.
The questions before the Court were A) Should the Voter ID Amendment appear on the ballot at all? and B) What Title/Description of the Amendment in each case should appear on the actual ballot?
On A) a group of good-government types (the MN ACLU, the League of Women Voters, other assorted anarchists and wild-eyed maniacs) argued the entire Voter ID Amendment should be ruled off the ballot.
On B) the GOP-controlled lege wrote out titles for both of these when they put them on the ballot. MN case law and precedent going back to 1919 says the MN Secretary of State has the sole right to title/describe such ballot measures.
Sec. of State Mark Ritchie (D) did just that and the MN GOP did not like it one bit, so they sued. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on July 31 and as of about 2:30 yesterday afternoon (just in time for the ballot printing deadline) handed down their rulings on both.....below the fold.
SHORT VERSION for Hit-and-Run Readers
On the Voter ID Amendment the Court, by a 4-2 majority, ruled that while the proposed Amendment was pretty sloppily written and the proposed Title was crummy, in neither case was it bad enough to force the Court to take the rather drastic step of ruling it off the ballot.
On the "Who Gets to Name/Title the Amendment on the Ballot" issue, the Court by the same 4-2 majority, ruled that since the Lege had stirred itself to actually write titles for the proposed Amendments, that the executive branch (in the person of Sec. of State Mark Ritchie), must yield to the precedence of the legislative branch to do this.
The merry band of citizen-journalists at TheUpTake (who covered every last move of the Franken-Coleman Senate Recount) is on the story, covering the ruling and some of the gloating by an ALEC/GOP type.
FULLY CAFFEINATED VERSION
The MN GOP took control of both Houses of the State legislature in 2010 (for the Senate, the first time in 40 years!) Having promised "jobs, jobs, jobs" they got right on the job...of passing ALEC-ordered crap.
They tried passing a Voter ID law in 2011 (because that's THEIR job). Despite the Red Wave of the 2010 election, MN was smart enough in 2010 to elect Mark Dayton (D) (the former US Senator; heir to the department store legacy) as governor to replace Tim (the Bland) Pawlenty. Dayton warned the lege he would veto the bill. They passed it anyway (having believed their own propaganda that Dayton was "weak", "indecisive", "can be rolled" etc.). Dayton struck it down.
The MN GOP found time between scandals (what kind of "jobs" between Amy and Mike? The BigE at MN Progressive Project fills you in on the affair between their Senate Majority leader and an execrable male staffer HERE) to do a job and re-frame the piece as a Constitutional Amendment. They did the same with the Marriage law, recasting it as an Amendment.
Now, under MN law, proposed Amendments passed by the lege are placed directly on the ballot for a decision by the voters and the governor HAS NO SAY. So that's what they did. (To his credit, the day the lege passed each one, Dayton issued a symbolic "veto" message, stating for the record that even though he couldn't stop it, why each Amendment is a bad idea.)
There have been op-ed pieces from the usual suspects, like here and the usual outside pressure groups running TV ads with fake Minnesotans pretending to love the Marriage Amendment here, because that's the JOB of the Right Wing.
OTOH there has been plenty of push back too. The mayors of both Minneapolis and St. Paul object to the Voter ID proposal on a lot of grounds, not the least of which is that it would cost a hell of a lot of money to implement in Minnesota's two largest cities, noted here. Organizations of the disabled have weighed in, and an Iraqi war veteran is asking publicly "what the hell was I fighting for?" when it comes to the Voter ID law. On the Marriage Amendment just today there is a heart-wrenching ad in the City Pages by a little boy who is "8 and 3/4 years old" here. (Warning: Tear-inducing.)
The usual gang of suspects has been stumping for the Marriage Amendment. In particular the state Catholic hierarchy has been pretty vocal and out front in their support. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune here and many other sources reported the Catholic hierarchy lately UN-invited Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to speak at a Catholic church because, well, most bullies are cowards. Conversely the (normal; ie NOT Missouri Synod and NOT Wisconsin Synod) Lutheran synods have gone on record as being opposed to the Amendment. (In Minnesota the basic church terrain is Lutheran-Catholic, with other denominations and groups all second tier or lower.)
In both cases the lege specified the language they wanted on the ballot to describe each Amendment. For the Voter ID they wanted "Photo Identification Required for Voting", which Secretary of State Mark Ritchie changed to "Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots."
(Rumor has it that in Committee, before cooler heads prevailed, the MN GOP REALLY wanted the Title for this one to be "Keep Only the God-Fearing White Citizens of Rock Ridge Like You and People who Look Like You Voting While Keeping rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and METHODISTS! Away from Elections" Amendment. (I told you non-Catholics & non-Lutherans were second-tier.))
For the other the legislature specified the Title should read: "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman". Again Ritchie exercised his prerogative and said the Title should be: "Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples." (Here at Rumor Control we debunk that the MN GOP REALLY wanted the Title to be: "Marriage is Only for One Man to One Woman... At a Time Unless You're the 1% or Majority Leader of the MN Senate or Ted Haggard or Some Other Family Values Republican Guy Because then its OK by Jesus". Never happened.)
"We did not want to sway the voter in any manner," he said. "We found it objectionable that the secretary of state would take it upon himself in unilateral action." ---State Senator Warren Limmer (R- Maple Grove)...from TwinCities.comYou see, under MN law, the Secretary of State, as chief elections officer, is directed to place titles on ballot issues which he/she considers to be truthful & accurate in describing an Amendment. When he labeled one (more Rumors! Never happened!) the "Screw Students, Old Folks and People Who are not Ice People out of their Right to Vote" Amendment, and the other the "Gay People somewhere in the state are having Sex so my Hetero-Marriage here is Ruined and I'm Making it My Business" Amendment, the GOP took it to court. As this is a pretty high level question it went straight to the MN Supremes.
Ritchie (who oversaw the clean-as-a-whistle, straight-shooting, even-handed, fair-as-fair-can-be recounts both in 2008 between Franken & Coleman for US Senate, and in 2010 between Dayton and Emmer for Governor) argued (via the voice of MN Attorney General Lori Swanson) on the basis of the Constitutional description of the duties of Secretary of State he and he alone is empowered to put a title on a ballot measure. The Supreme Court heard 1 hour of oral arguments on the issue back on July 31...of THIS year.
As you read above they have already ruled... 27 days later! A Ruling in only 27 days! Incredible! I mean, By issuing a ruling now, a mere 27 days after oral arguments, the Court not only went beyond "Ludicrous Legal Speed" hyperdrive, I'll need to check if their plain black robes actually went to PLAID!
Anyway, once they hit the "Emergency Brake...Never Use!" braking the ruling materialized in this particular space-time continuum.
On the matter of the Voter ID Amendment appearing AT ALL the majority deferred to the power of the legislature.
"We acknowledge that the ballot question, as framed by the Legislature, does not use the same words used in the amendment itself, nor does it list all of the proposed effects ..." the court ruled. "These failures may be criticized, and it may indeed have been wiser for the Legislature to include the entire amendment on the ballot." But the court said it has a "limited role" in such areas.---from the majority opinion, available in its entirety here, scroll down.
In a lengthy opinion, the state's high court said that the question is "not so unreasonable and misleading" that it shouldn't be put to a popular vote. The justices also said the petitioners had not demonstrated there was an error that needed a judiciary fix.And the Minneapolis Star-Tribune offers this quote:
That disappointed Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU Minnesota.
"We believe that the question that the voters are going to see is false and misleading, and that was conceded by their attorney," Samuelson said. "But the court said it wasn't false and misleading enough I guess." --from MPR
Said Stacy Doepner-Hove, president of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, in a statement:The GOP side was happier:
"The decision means that we will need to work harder than ever, not just to make sure that voters get to the polls and know what is on their ballot, but also to understand what is not on their ballot,"
"Secretary Ritchie's attempt to rewrite the law to affect the outcome of a vote has been rightly stopped. He is supposed to be an impartial administrator of our elections. The restraint imposed on him by the court shows that he cannot put his own partisan feelings aside and fulfill his role objectively," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.THE DISSENTS
Mind you, the ruling was 4-2. (Normally there are 7 members of the Court, but Justice Meyer retired Aug. 10 and chose NOT to be part of this case. New Justice Wilhemina Wright, appointed a couple weeks ago by Governor Dayton, is too new to the Court to have participated.) On both issues Justices Alan Page and Paul Anderson felt the majority was off base. Both of them proposed the entire Amendment be printed on the ballot so voters could see/read for themselves but this was turned down.
Justice Page in particular was incensed at the majority ruling and said so for 65 pages in dissent. (Football fans of a certain vintage need to know that yes, he is THAT Alan Page of defensive line fame. He got his law degree going to law school in the off season the last few years of his career and was elected to the MN Supremes back in 1992.)
In particular he thought the legislative title for Voter ID was misleading. He called it "bait and switch", "deceptive and misleading" and wrote flatly:
"Under the court's view, a majority of the Legislature could propose a constitutional amendment to, say, reinstate prohibition, propose the ballot title 'Eliminating the Personal Income Tax,' the secretary of state would be obliged to put the Legislature's title on the ballot, and under the standard the court announces today, this court could do nothing to prevent it."He also wasn't shy about telling off the majority, and NOT in a "Minnesota Nice" sort of way:
"Furthermore, the court's superficial analysis of the ballot question fails to do justice to our jurisprudence or to our role as a court."Anderson too was pointed in the dissent:
In a 65-page dissent, Anderson called the question "inaccurate, misleading and deceptive" and said it "deprives Minnesotans of their constitutional right to knowingly consent to a constitutional amendment that will, if approved, 'alter, modify or reform' their government."....from TwinCities.comSILVER LININGS?
Amid the moaning from the Left about the rulings (complete with complaints that all four members of the Court majority were appointed by Tim Pawlenty) there may be some things that keep this from getting out of hand.
First, the voters still need to approve the Amendments, by a (not-so) simple majority this November. Its not-so simple because by Constitution an Amendment needs to pass by "a majority of those voting"---not voting on the Amendment itself mind you, but just showing up to vote. There are quite a few people who show up at every election, vote for certain names and issues at the top of the ticket, and ignore lots of offices and issues further down (For Third Assistant Dogcatcher, vote for Only One Name:").
Well these folks are still counted as showing up to vote (duh!) even if they don't make a call on a proposed Amendment. The effect is an Amendment can get, say, 51 votes out of 100 in a precinct of those actually voting on the question, but if 132 people actually vote that day, and 32 of them just ignore that line on the ballot, well 51/ 132 = 38.6% and so the measure would fail.
Same deal here, only statewide. Usually in MN an Amendment needs to be polling about 55% or so to have a decent chance of being enacted to offset this effect.
Second, that's where things get interesting. There hasn't been much polling on these issues (mostly because they've been tied up in court, and in the one case there was a fair chance the question wouldn't even make it to the ballot) but what little there has been says the "Marriage Amendment" (which by the way only repeats Minnesota law, that gay marriage is not recognized in the state; the wingers want to embed it in the Constitution to make it harder to change in the future) is getting about that, 55%. The pushback has been strong from the left side of the street, complete with yard signs and a pretty good ad running statewide you can watch on MinnPost here.
Third, the little polling seen suggests the Voter ID Amendment is doing better, mid to high 60s in support. OTOH, the MN ACLU, the League of Women Voters, Jewish Community Action, Common Cause--Minnesota (plaintiffs in the lawsuits) and other good-government groups along with Minnesota Democrats, are just getting cranked up to fight this thing. It will be uphill but we'll see.
They will be aided by the weakness of the state GOP. These Amendments are their baby and they are the kind of thing that state parties power through on behalf of their partisans. In this case the MN GOP is an anchor on a leaky boat as I noted in a diary last month. (Its gotten worse. Not only was the Party fined $30,000, they are so broke they had to petition the court for the privilege of paying in MONTHLY INSTALLMENTS between July and October. $30,000? $7500/month is all a Republican Party can swing? Really? Good grief. It shows just how crappy a party they are if the Koch Brothers won't send them $30,000 in couch cushion money to pay a fine....sheesh!)
We'll know more in a week or so. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has many shortcomings, but one of their strengths is that every election year right around the beginning of September they hire a Princeton outfit to conduct the "Minnesota Poll." It's broad ranging and always gives a pretty good snapshot/baseline of where things stand about 10 weeks out. (In 1998 the Minnesota Poll gave the first clear sign Jesse Ventura was making an impact on the governor's race that year. In 2006 the GOP howled because the Poll showed newcomer Amy Klobuchar leading by 10 points. ("Inaccurate" "Skewed" "Biased" they screeched. I agreed. It was inaccurate. Amy won by 20 in November. :-)) By about the 10th or so we should have a decent view of the terrain.
Fourth, there is the "be careful what you wish for" factor. You see, when the MN GOP wrote up the Voter ID Amendment, they left a LOT of the implementation of it to the next legislature starting in January of 2013. Naturally the MN GOP assumed they would continue to be large and in charge at the Capitol, since of course Willard and Eddie Munster (All Grown Up) would send Obama back to Kenya/Hawaii/Chicago, Congress would fall to new lows being led by Boehner AND McConnell and OF COURSE the voters would re-elect their best friends to the MN Lege.
But there is a decent to strong chance the MN Democrats will take back the legislature and they will be the ones writing the Voter ID Enabling legislation if the Amendment passes. And what could that mean?
Last winter Secretary Ritchie testified in front of the legislature when the Amendment was being debated. He called the GOP on their "voter fraud" crapola by offering a new technological system (after all, "photo" ID?? Really? After all, photographs are SO 19th century tech!) that would A) register EVERYBODY in the state using digital cameras, B) prevent "voter impersonation fraud" that Voter ID laws are allegedly about and actually don't do anything about, and C) cost about $10million to implement in MN instead of the $40million or more the ALEC Amendment would cost!
The MN Progressive Project covered Ritchie's testimony here.
WELL! A cheaper, more efficient technology that fights fraud, costs less and expands the franchise? The MN GOP was having none of that, because ALEC couldn't make any money off it and it would interfere with the global voter suppression/kill democracy movement.
But IF the Amendment passes, and IF the Democrats regain control of the MN Legislature, they could simply call in Mark Ritchie and say, "Sounds good. Looks cheap. Fights fraud. Already tested in Canada? Cool. So move. Second?"....and they could implement the Amendment!
We will see. Thank you for reading this far for all the news from yust southeast of Lake Woebegon.