In the past year, some 30 states saw nearly 100 bills introduced to stop people from voting. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think America was doing its lurching best to recreate the democracy of 1960 Mississippi.
In Texas, you can vote with a state-issued gun-carry license, but not a state-issued college ID.
North Dakota successfully cleansed it polls of Native Americans by requiring specific home addresses, knowing that many rural reservations have no need for these.
And in Georgia, the secretary of state tried to wipe out 53,000 registrations for such minor infractions as missing hyphens.
It’s all part of a largely Republican plot that preys on the aged, the young, and people of color. North Carolina’s laws, as a federal court ruled, targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The end game? To create the worst kind of democracy money can buy.
But Minnesota’s having none of this. “Fortunately, in Minnesota, we’ve been a lot less tolerant of those who want to shut people out of the voting system,” says Secretary of State Steve Simon.
This isn’t to say that Republicans haven’t tried. Back in 2012, they launched a constitutional amendment to require photo IDs, the kind of law that tends to target immigrants and urban dwellers who don’t drive or can’t afford a car. The people pushed back, sending it to resounding defeat.
“In Minnesota, we said no,” says Simon. And we’ve continued to say no ever since.
Part of that’s due to a statewide ethic. We’ve never been into grotesquely un-American scheming. But it’s also due to Simon. Minnesota is fortunate to have a secretary of state not actively working to screw us. “I would say that Minnesota has a great culture of civic participation that other states might not have.”
Though his may be an overlooked office, it’s the brain trust for our democracy. Over the past two elections, Minnesota has ranked No. 1 for voter participation. Simon is busy conspiring to make voting even more convenient.
This year he’ll push to restore the rights of people “who’ve left prison behind.” In Minnesota, some 50,000 residents are barred from voting because they remain on parole or probation. If they’ve done their time, Simon believes, they’ve earned the right to take part in affairs of state.
He also hopes to add automatic registration for anyone getting a driver’s license. It’s not only cheaper and more accurate than our present system, but it would go a long way toward preventing the chicanery found in other states. He further wants to pre-register high school students so they’re all set when they come of age.
Finally, he hopes to help voters with disabilities the same way we aid residents temporarily living overseas. If you’re stationed abroad with the military, for example, you can currently receive a ballot by email. Simon wants to grant the same convenience to the disabled, who may struggle to get to a polling site.
Though these might seem like small matters, they go to the heart of upholding some semblance of a government by the people, for the people. In Steve Simon, Minnesota has a public servant who still believes in actually serving the public.
Click here to read other profiles from this year's City Pages People Issue.