Why did the Voter ID amendment fail to be ratified by the voters on November 6th? A lot of people are asking that, given that the Star Tribune had support for (different) voter ID legislation at 80% in 2011.
What many failed to understand is that those aligned against Voter ID treated the campaign as if they were fighting for their very lives and they called in every conceivable resource, including some from very unlikely sources, like Planed Parenthood and the National Education Association (NEA). Voter ID in Minnesota was a national fight, but a one-sided one.
Before the campaign even got started, it was an expensive battle just to keep the amendment on the ballot. Minnesota Majority funded and won two separate cases before the Minnesota Supreme Court to both keep the duly passed Voter ID amendment on the ballot and prevent the secretary of state from changing the title to a confusing jumble of words. Before the campaign even got started, we spent over $100,000 in legal fees.
As the chairman of ProtectMyVote.com, I can tell you that none felt the loss on Voter ID more keenly than myself on November 6th. After working on Minnesota’s election integrity issues nearly to the exclusion of all else for the last 5 years, seeing the culmination of that effort burn up on Election Day was a devastating blow which led me to question whether I was competent to carry on the fight.
There were a lot of factors that led to the ultimate defeat of the Voter ID amendment, but chief among them was simply money. We couldn’t even come close to matching the resources of the massive coalition of left-wing organizations, unions, DC-Based national non-profits and even government agencies that were aligned against the Voter ID amendment. But for the help of one major donor, the campaign to pass Voter ID wouldn’t have even gotten off the ground because people simply weren’t supporting the campaign financially. Our fundraising team continuously reported back the same rejection message: “Voter ID is going to pass easily. You don’t need any money.”
At the same time, another upstart group calling itself “Voter ID for Minnesota PAC” focused on attempts to raise money for their own somewhat misguided campaign efforts by alternately attacking and pretending to be associated with ProtectMyVote.com. We would have appreciated their effort to erect billboards had they not initiated attacks from our rear. With over 88 opposition organizations to contend with, we didn’t need to open a battle on a new front with “should-be” allies, so we largely ignored them, despite the nuisance of their incessant pot shots and occasional “successes” at poisoning the well for both committees with some donors. Still, both the efforts and mischief of the group were largely inconsequential.
Those who thought putting up a couple billboards, sending some emails and making some YouTube videos was all it would take to pass the Voter ID amendment were sorely mistaken. The “common sense” messaging approach utilized by both pro-amendment campaigns was just one piece of many that the overall campaign required.
Upon forming ProtectMyVote.com, one of the first things we did was engage polling and focus groups to test messaging both for and against the amendment. We immediately realized that we were vulnerable to the opposition messaging. The opposition message was a pack of lies, but it was effective. We also knew what needed to be done to counter the lies, and developed a robust plan but raising the resources to accomplish it was a desperate task. As Mark Twain said, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
SEIU, AFL-CIO and other government and labor unions heavily contributed staff time to door-knocking and calling campaigns pushing their scare-tactics and misinformation. The League of Women Voters was gaining access to senior care facilities under the guise of presenting non-biased, non-partisan information sessions about Voter ID, when in reality, they were campaigning against it. ProtectMyVote.com was repeatedly denied access to the same facilities. ISIAH was rallying churches against Voter ID. The Secretary of State was expending taxpayer resources to deploy himself and his staff across the whole state to campaign against the amendment. Ostensible county election official training seminars became anti-amendment indoctrination junkets. Town hall meetings billed as presenting non-biased facts were laden with the opposition’s campaign propaganda and even their literature. We were not welcome to provide a rebuttal. County and municipal governments were likewise expending taxpayer resources and advocating against the amendment. The press was largely complicit in supporting the falsehoods. 70 Minnesota newspapers explicitly advocated a “no” vote while parroting the opposition talking points and omitting the real facts.
The $3 million or so that Our Vote Our Future reported to the campaign finance board doesn’t come close to representing the full scope of the resources arrayed against Voter ID.
Despite outward appearances of broad support, we knew the task before us was a daunting one: Defeat the combined state, local and national political machines. Squashing voter ID measures was a top priority of the Obama campaign, the administration and their allies.
Millions of dollars were contributed to the Our Vote Our Future committee from Washington DC-based national special interest groups, including the NEA, America Votes (formerly ACORN), and George Soros’s Open Society group. Next to none of the opposition’s considerable war chest actually came from individual in-state donors.
Though operating with a comparative (significant) deficit in resources, we put what we had available to good use. ProtectMyVote.com was engaged in a statewide campaign on numerous fronts. We developed messaging and directed resources according to scientific polling and demographic analysis, targeting groups and regions according to need. We participated in county fairs and parades across the state, staffed an extremely busy free-standing booth at the State Fair, organized town hall meetings, established local coordinators, distributed over 25,000 lawn signs and bumper stickers, participated in local forums, engaged the press, met with editorial boards, published op-eds, gave presentations, organized letter to the editor campaigns, made numerous TV and radio appearances and ran a 72-hour campaign before the election. We organized door-to-door literature drops, developed and broadcast over $1 million in tested radio and TV ads. We went toe to toe in debates against the opposition and every observer said we crushed them on facts. After nearly every debate, our opposing advocate refused to debate us again because of the embarrassment they suffered. They sent new representatives and lost the debates again and again, but even all of that wasn’t enough.
In spite of our repeated rhetorical victories, our twice-weekly polling data was showing a steady decline in support for the amendment. We needed the resources to expand our messaging campaign to counteract the tremendous onslaught of misinformation, but even after showing prospective donors the danger that was obvious in the trend line of internal and external polling data, we were still told, “Don’t worry. It’ll pass. You don’t need any money.” Historically, constitutional amendments have required 54% or better support going in to prevail. The polls pegged support at 52% just before the election.
“Don’t’ worry. It’ll pass.”
At its peak, our organization consisted of just 7 paid personnel, working against 88 well-funded and established organizations. Our small, but extraordinarily dedicated staff was run ragged, often working seven-day, 100-hour weeks for 8 months straight.
Passing the Voter ID amendment was something we were only going to get one shot at but with few exceptions, other friendly organizations didn’t seem to see the need to help. The Taxpayers League unexpectedly produced a radio ad in support of the amendment and several Tea Party groups were engaged but many prospective donors couldn’t be persuaded to contribute, despite convincing evidence of the urgency.
In the final two weeks of the campaign, when the opposition began airing their latest scare-tactics TV ad featuring Governors Dayton and Carlson, there was no money left to counter the 7 demonstrable falsehoods in the spot and none on the horizon.
Ultimately, money was the principle factor in the defeat of the Voter ID amendment. Initial post-election research now being conducted by Minnesota Majority indicates that voter fraud likely played a role, but voter fraud is only effective in a close election. It shouldn’t have even been close. Despite the defeat of the constitutional amendment, the people of Minnesota clearly support requiring photo ID to vote, but were misled to believe that the constitutional amendment was an egregious way to accomplish it. With adequate resources to counter the lies and scare tactics of the opposition, Voter ID could have been ratified handily.
Had the amendment been ratified, I’d surely have taken some share of the credit, so since it wasn’t, I must assume blame. I believe my biggest failure was in trying to walk a line between showing confidence in the outcome to fire up supporters and simultaneously communicating the desperate need for resources. I failed to inspire enough people and organizations to join, assist and fund our campaign. For that, Minnesota, I am truly sorry. Our volunteers were amazing and our small but dedicated staff probably worked harder on the Voter ID campaign than anything they’d ever done before. They did all they could. It was my ultimate responsibility to build the campaign to sufficient funding and staff levels and I simply failed to acquire the necessary resources.
It isn’t the first and won’t be the last time I’ve endeavored to accomplish something I believe is important and failed. I’ve also enjoyed successes. Another failure won’t stop me. There are many avenues to pursue towards improving the integrity of Minnesota’s election system and I’m going to keep fighting for that. Hopefully, some of you who read this will join me and fight on.
There’s plenty to fight. Riding high on the defeat of Voter ID, election integriity foes are already laying plans to erode the integrity of Minnesota’s election system even further.
To everyone who gave of their time, labor and money to support our campaign, you have my heartfelt gratitude. Don’t lose heart. Losing the voter ID amendment fight stung, but we’re not dead yet. There’s work yet to be done.