The 2000 election was probably won by Al Gore. But George Bush was put into office anyway. Imagine what this world would be like had Gore been ensconced in the white house? The Tea Party would probably have emerged sooner and madder, but less organized; global climate change would have become a widely accepted issue to do something about within a couple of years, instead of much later (cuz, you know, that hasn’t even happened yet). We probably wouldn’t have had this war in Iraq. If Gore had continued Clinton’s policy dealing with Al Qaida and Osama Bin Laden (no relation) there probably wouldn’t have been a 9/11. I’m sure we’d have other problems, but none of those problems.
As you know, national elections are actually handled by states, and states are charmingly diverse in how they do that. For instance, the technology of elections, and what you have to do to prove you are eligible to vote at the polling place, vary across states. But after the 2000 election there was some movement to make the system work better, to implement chad-free technologies, and to update the procedure for determining eligibility.
Eventually, of course, the changes got politicized. Everyone knew that Democratic voters and Republican voters are different, not just in their politics or who they vote for, but in how they vote. The Lockstep Party, Republican, is more homogeneous and generally privileged. You want to vote, you stop in at the voting place on the way home from work and vote. You know where it is because it is the church you go to, you have a car so transport and weather are not issues, you have access to information which is all in English and that is your native language, so you know things like when election day is and so on and so forth: Democrats have that too, but being a big tent Democrats also have other folks. Recent immigrants who don’t understand the system, older folks who don’t have a car and have a hard time getting across town, people who don’t happen to go to the well established local church so they don’t even know where it is. Also, among Democrats are people with overt labels as to how they are likely to vote. You can’t wear as button on your shirt declaring your support for a candidate, but you can, say, be black, and therefore visibly less likely to vote for the Republican. This last bit allows people who control the polls to harass or turn away certain voters.
At some point in recent history, Republicans got aggressive with strategies that would make it hard for that diverse subset of Democrats to vote. Some of those strategies are just downright dirty and illegal. When I was working on Get Out the Vote for some Democratic Candidates a few years ago I found recent African immigrants, likely Democratic voters, who had been told by Republican operatives that “Republicans vote Tuesday, Democrats vote Wednesday. So go vote Wednesday.” Seriously.
But there are other, no less unethical but potentially legal, methods of keeping a small percentage of Democrats from voting, such as requiring certain kinds of ID that not everyone, especially Democrats, has.
But these techniques, known these days as “Voter ID Laws,” did not come on the scene until after the 2004 election. While there may have been a few earlier efforts, one of the first state level attempt to restrict voter access occurred in Georgia in 2005, a push by Karl Rove to look into voter fraud by immigrants in 2007, and ACORN’s war on voting the same year.
Prior to that, there wasn’t much going on at the state level along these lines. In 2003, in Minnesota, there was nothing. The legislature did take up the issue of voting, and made attempts at upgrading and improving voting systems, but this was not an attempt to disenfranchise voters. That didn’t happen in Minnesota until later, peaking with the 2012 Voter ID constitutional amendment, which was pushed by Republicans and opposed by DFLers (Democrats), and which was clearly defeated.
Now fast forward to the 2014 Minnesota State Auditor’s race.
The incumbent, Rebecca Otto, widely recognized as one of the best Auditors the state has ever had, is being challenged in the primary by Perennial Candidate Matt Entenza, who is widely seen as making a run at the Auditor’s seat because it is a potential stepping stone to the Governor’s office, and he really wants to be Governor, and apparently will do anything to achieve that. Years ago, back in 2003, before “Voter ID” was a thing, before the Republican War on Voting had taken off, the Minnesota legislature messed around with some voting laws, in an effort to bring the states procedures in line with a national voting act, sincerely trying to modernize and update our system. It was a Democratic run legislature. There were votes on two separate bills and their amendments, and later one of the bills went to the Senate, was returned later, and passed. The exact details of what happened are rather complicated and perhaps I will write something up on that at another time. It is worth noting that Otto’s votes were in line with those of liberal democrats like Michael Paymar, Jim Davnie, and Paul Thissen. The point is, a) there was no Voter ID effort at the time so b) Rebecca Otto did not support one. When you look in detail at Otto’s votes on the various bills and amendments, there is not “supporting Voter ID” like pattern or anything, really, of note. The final bill, which I believe Otto voted in favor of, did not have the showing of identification in it.
Entenza and Otto, both in the house at the time, voted differently, Otto in favor, Entenza opposed.
This was before, remember, the Republican War on Voting, which we saw more recently.
Later, when “Voter ID” became a thing being pushed by the GOP in Minnesota, pretty much all Democrats, including Rebecca Otto, opposed it. Otto in particular campaigned vigorously against it. Her position today is that she opposes what we call “Voter ID,” which is a post 2004, or even, post 2007, effort, engineered by Republicans, to limit access to the voting booth mainly by a subset of Democrats.
In June, Matt Entenza filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings of the State of Minnesota, that Rebecca Otto had lied in official campaign information in saying she is an opponent of Voter ID. Entenza adduced her 2003 vote as evidence that she was in favor of it. That was a lie by Entenza, a lie designed to look like an accusation of someone telling a lie.
The three judge panel that reviewed the case not only rejected Entenza’s claim, but also, noted that even if they put the complaint in the light most favorable to his claim they could not come close to accepting it as valid. This finding was correct. There was no “Voter ID” thing to have voted for or against in 2003; After Entenza made the claim that Otto had supported “Voter ID” in such a way as to make people think she supported the recent 2012 Republican plan, someone asked Otto on her Facebook page about it, and she responded in this private forum. That was not an official campaign document. And, at the time, everyone who knew anything was shaking their head wondering what the heck Entenza was talking about when he referred to Voter ID back in 2003. It simply wasn’t a thing. The judges agreed that the complaint was unfounded for these several reasons.
In other words, they said that Entenza was wrong, and they implied that his intention was not entirely honorable.
In response, Entenza’s campaign manager got himself a shovel and is digging in. Entenza will still campaign on this absurd ruse.