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Constitutional amendments

Voters should reject efforts to short-circuit the legislative process

Posted 10/24/12

Asking voters to decide issues that should be addressed at the state Capitol undermines the checks and balances built into our legislative process and diminishes the purpose of the state’s …

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Constitutional amendments

Voters should reject efforts to short-circuit the legislative process


Asking voters to decide issues that should be addressed at the state Capitol undermines the checks and balances built into our legislative process and diminishes the purpose of the state’s Constitution. That alone is overwhelming reason for citizens to reject both constitutional amendments on the ballot this November.

Minnesota’s Constitution was drafted for two reasons. First, it defines the structure of state government. Second, it spells out citizens’ rights, which place limits on government’s power to intervene in people’s lives.

Both amendments on the ballot this fall would only serve to disenfranchise groups of Minnesotans. One amendment would ban marriage between gays and lesbians while the other would require voters to show a state-issued photo ID to participate in elections. Proponents of both amendments are relying on exaggerated threats to win support for their causes.

Supporters of the marriage amendment believe marriage should apply only to one man and one woman, arguing that same-sex unions threaten the sanctity of such unions. They also argue that the primary purpose of marriage is to have children and that government has an interest in protecting children.

But there is no evidence that same-sex marriages have any impact on other families or relationships. And although producing children is not the sole reason for marriage, studies have shown that marriage is indeed good for children. The commitment tends to result in more stability and responsibility in the adults involved, gay or straight.

And let’s be clear. Even if the amendment is rejected, as it should be, same-sex marriage will remain illegal in Minnesota, at least for now. While the Legislature could eventually legalize it, as a growing number of states have already done, the issue has become increasingly less controversial as time goes on. Twenty years from now, most Minnesotans will likely look back on this period and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Likewise, supporters of the voter ID amendment have made much ado about nothing. There is practically no evidence of voter impersonation in Minnesota elections, which is the only type of voter fraud that the photo ID requirement would prevent. The most common form of improper voting is by convicted felons who have not had their voting rights restored— and it’s usually the result of honest error not a calculated attempt to cheat.

The amendment does nothing to prevent felons from voting— but it is likely to make it more difficult for many other Minnesotans — including seniors, veterans, college students and low-income adults — to participate in elections because they may lack the type of ID demanded by the state. The details on the ID requirements are still unclear and asking voters to okay something before they even know the particulars is outrageous.

Voters should be equally distressed by the Legislature’s naked attempt to circumvent the traditional legislative process by using the state’s Constitution. This year, Republicans had proposals for nearly two -dozen constitutional amendments, although only two made it as far as the ballot.

Both measures on the ballot could have, and should have, been handled through the normal legislative process. Instead, Republican legislators went to the Constitution to avoid a veto of their policy bills by Gov. Mark Dayton. We have checks and balances for a purpose, and this isn’t how new law is supposed to be made in Minnesota.

Over its history, the Minnesota Constitution has been amended 119 times. Some of those actions — such as abolishing the state treasurer position — could only be achieved through amending the constitution. But far too many could have been addressed through the normal legislative process.

Part of the problem is that Minnesota’s threshold for passing an amendment is lower than many states. It only requires a simple majority in the Legislature to approve a constitutional question. Many states require a super-majority before a constitutional question can go on the ballot.

State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, proposed just such a measure for Minnesota in 2009 when he authored a bill to require a three-fifths majority in the Legislature before putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The proposal died in committee.

It’s time to revisit raising the bar. Ideally, only actions that can’t be addressed through the normal legislative process should be considered for constitutional amendments. Our legislative representatives have more time to study, review and debate the issues before coming to a thoughtful decision. That’s what we elect them to do.

Turning our state’s constitution into a scrap yard for legislation that can’t make it through the normal channels cheapens the value of a document designed to protect our freedoms, not encumber them.


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  • Shaking my head.

    If legislators did not have personal agendas I would be more than willing to let them make such decisions. Unfortunately, many of our elected representatives change when they have been in office for a while, and they are more beholding to their party than to their constituents. Once elected, our representatives are supposed to represent everyone, not just their party or it's platform. Many democrats are going to vote yes on both of these amendments, but out of fear (real, and imagined) would never let co-workers or friends know to prevent being labelled something or other. Due to judicial progressive decisions around the country, I feel the amendments are necessary. I trust the electorate more than I trust St. Paul or Washington D.C. lately.

    Saturday, October 27, 2012 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Are you saying then, that basically we just don't need the elected folks ... let all be dealt with via the voters? Seems the author had a different agenda in mind, and the above comment twisted the direction ... and, of course, in a politically biased way.

    Saturday, October 27, 2012 Report this

  • bonfire

    hard rock miner,

    I guess you feel voter ID will be well worth your property taxes going up? Property taxes will go up, by how much is not certain as the writers of this amendment neglected to lay out plans how to implement voter ID and kicked the can to the next legislature.

    Cities, counties and townships across Minnesota have written to local newspapers with their objections to voter ID concerning their costs to them which will be in the millions and there will be costs every election year and the lack of detail in the amendment as written. Many Minnesota papers have written editorials against voter ID.

    I think it's foolish that my property taxes will go up to pay for a "problem" that doesn't exist. I also feel sorry for the people who volunteer their time to work at polling places during elections and the hard work they will be doing before that if voter ID should pass. They are exceptional citizens and they will be stuck with a much more difficult job, training, tools, paperwork and other yet to be determined obstacles. It's going to be a big old costly mess.

    Monday, October 29, 2012 Report this

  • Heavenly days bonfire, my property taxes go up each time the public employee unions and teacher unions get a raise. Lately, I haven't seem them fixing a problem, so would you join me in protesting their wage increases? How about needless, useless public works projects such as bicycle trails and green spaces? Am I supposed to "vote" against these like the voter ID. I get the feeling that some property tax increases are OK as long as they suit you, but others for causes you disagree with aren't. I'll make a deal with you, you can avoid paying taxes for the voter ID implementation, if you agree that those of us that disagree with the forgoing union and public works increases are paid by you and yours and not those of us that disagree with them. Deal?

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Ummm? Mr. Orrcountry. This thing you seem to have against unions ... can you better explain, because what you have so far is ridiculous.

    Think it through. Think it through with true critical and logical thinking. Then consider taking a more intelligent shot at this.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012 Report this

  • jt: you seem to have some sort of paranoia. What gives you the idea I have something against unions? Come on, think it through, analyze it, organize your conclusions and present them to all us to see and all understand, so we can all see your apparent ridiculous reasoning powers. Trust me, you'll be a better person once you spill your guts and then we'll have something to debate. You are behaving way too hypothetical, rather than practical. It's a behavior pattern bullies like to use on other people until they meet their waterloo.

    I love it when youy try to taunt other posters on this thread.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Me ... taunt? No, and again you and so many others seem to have missed my primary point. That is NOT to try to preach to others what my political beliefs are ... all should be free to make up their own minds. But it IS to plead with them ... far too often ... to, as I said above and will say again, do so "with true critical and logical thinking".

    That seems to be too much for some. Much easier to attack the messenger.

    So I shall await my waterloo then I guess.

    (Oh, and that I wish you would only follow your own advice from your third sentence!)

    Wednesday, October 31, 2012 Report this

  • Shaking my head.

    On both of these amendments, the electorate will decide. I trust them much more than the public or judges these days. Just because one does not agree with these amendments we are judged as racists. Commons sense says only eligible voters should vote. Tradition and biology say that only a man and a woman can be husband and wife. I, and MOST OF MINNESOTA will be voting yes on both.

    Thursday, November 1, 2012 Report this

  • jtormoen

    "Only eligible voters should vote"???? Help me understand how that has anything to do with requiring photo ID to vote. Are you then saying, that anyone who walks into a voting place and shows an ID ... whether they have done anything more to verify who they are, where they live ... can vote? Then I'll just go from precinct to precinct.

    I'll not comment about your biology lesson ... or did I.

    Thursday, November 1, 2012 Report this

  • bonfire

    Today an elderly family member had his surgery rescheduled to Nov. 6, election day. It's too late for mail-in absentee ballots and we, the family who plan to be at the hospital for his surgery, all live too far away from Duluth to guarantee we would be able to get to our polling places to vote. I spent some time on the phone finding out how we could vote. SOS employee was very helpful and I found out we can in-person absentee vote if your address hasn't changed at our local Auditor's offices such as in Virginia and Hibbing as well as at Duluth Auditors office and the hours. We all plan to vote tomorrow.

    Now, this unexpected voting challenge just reinforces my belief that the Voter ID amendment would be a huge mistake. The amendment has no details how this situation or many others are going to play out. If the amendment writers are so confident it is needed, they would have done the work on how it will be implemented and thought about and addressed all the possible consequences. They did not.

    I'm so grateful we have a good voting system in MN and SOS. Imagining how we would be able to vote in the same unexpected circumstances in other states where the SOS and voter ID proponents are creating as much confusion and disruption as they possibly can, just made me ill.

    Friday, November 2, 2012 Report this