On first hearing, voter ID laws sound like an obvious and innocent idea. After all, don’t you need ID for everything else these days? So it’s not surprising that 80 percent of Minnesotans polled last year said they favored a proposed state ballot measure that would have required voters to present a government-issued photo ID before voting. But then progressive groups launched a massive education campaign, telling people what it would really mean. And despite starting 60 points behind in the polls, come Election Day they defeated the measure by a 54-to-46 margin.
Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, the citizens group that led the campaign against the measure, said his team didn’t have the luxury of trying to persuade undecided voters or improve turnout. They had to change people’s minds.
And over time, that’s what they did, educating the public about the consequences to seniors and others for whom getting ID can be hugely burdensome, about how much the measure would cost taxpayers, and about the complications created by its ambiguous wording.
“On average, we changed 20 to 30 percent of ‘yes’ or ‘undecided’ voters to become ‘no’ voters after a conversation on the phone,” McGrath said. “This was a consistent margin from September through Election Day. We literally pulled away support for the amendment and added it to our column night after night.”
The measure had “very broad support,” he said, “but very, very shallow support.” Initial reactions tended to be reflexive, rather than considered.
And as opponents made their case, a measure that had been thought a no-brainer became widely seen as controversial and expensive and arguably an attempt by Republican leaders to leverage the naivete of some Minnesotans — and the racial anxiety of others — to their partisan advantage.
“There’s no getting around the racial aspect,” said McGrath.