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The Wealthy One Percent That’s Behind Minnesota’s Racist Voter ID Push

A new report details how Minnesota's wealthiest are pooling funds to shape state-level politics where basic civil rights issues like the right to vote are at stake.
 
 
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 The perennial swing state of Minnesota is the latest to be enthralled in debate over Republican-led efforts to create new voting restrictions that civil rights groups say will undermine voter access for low-income people of color, the disabled, youth and immigrants, among others. And a new watchdog report argues this week that the wealthy one percent of Minnesota are behind those efforts.

The report, by the group  TakeAction Minnesota, describes how Minnesota’s wealthiest finance institutions and their executives, lobbying groups, PACs and the chamber of commerce have been pooling funds together, sharing resources, and in some cases sharing office suite space in a collective effort that’s at least partially responsible for a Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2010.

The group’s report shows more correlation than causation when it comes to the voter ID initiative. But it’s instructive in detailing the way serious money is shaping state-level politics where basic civil rights issues like the right to vote are at stake.

An example of this is Wells Fargo executive vice president Jon Campbell chairing the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the state’s top lobby, joining together with the Minnesota Business Partnership, the state’s third largest lobby, for a mega-lobby called  MN Forward, which focuses on slashing corporate taxes and cutting government spending. All the entities — the Chamber, the Partnership, MN Forward — have flooded hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years into the coffers of Republican candidates, some of whom are architects of a photo ID voter mandate that Republicans would like to have placed on a referendum ballot in November.

Says the report, the banks’ “executives and board members have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates who will make it harder for members of the 99 percent of the population to vote.”

What TakeAction Minnesota is asking of its report’s readers is to accept the idea that voter ID rules widen the disparities between those with power largesse and those with power limited by suppressing the one democratic franchise all citizens possess: voting.

For Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, the issue is less about the legal and policy merits of voter ID laws — though that’s important — and more about a larger problem listed in the report as, “An intentional effort to reduce the voting rolls in order to help corporate conservatives further expand their wealth and power.”

In an interview with Colorlines.com, McGrath said, “For us, this is about calling out issues like race, because so much of this is racialized, and calling out the financial interests who’ve been moving this agenda along.”

Whether there’s “intentional effort” on the part of banks like Wells Fargo is, at best, debatable. But the Minnesota photo ID law doesn’t exist in isolation. There are over  30 states that have voter ID restrictions, some mandating a state-issued photo identification card. No matter what state, though, the impact is the same: potential for voter suppression.

This was illustrated in a scene this week when Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim African American, held a  press conference at the state capitol opposing the photo ID proposal. He stood with Mai Thor, who spoke from her wheelchair about how her voting rights would be compromised, and Somali-American Sadik Warfa, who said that a photo ID requirement would painfully remind Somali-Americans of the governments they escaped to the U.S. from. Minnesota is home to the  nation’s largest Somali immigrant population.

Republican supporters of the ballot insist they are actually protecting voters by preventing bogeymen like “voter fraud” and “voter impersonation” from surfacing. It’s the common refrain among Republicans  across the country who want the photo ID laws, even though voter fraud and impersonation barely occur.

 
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