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Lessons from communities of color in the struggle over voting rights in Minnesota

In the days following the elections, provocative headlines like “The New Supermajority: Latinos and People of Color” proclaimed the demographic and electoral power of communities of color within the United States. It’s true that people of color, women and young people who turned out the vote had a significant impact on the outcomes at the polling place. This new alignment has surprised many.  Yet, beneath the rhetoric and the high turnout numbers is an ongoing battle to shape the electorate and which voices are heard in the decision-making process.

Minnesota was just one site in the broader attack on the voting rights of communities of color and low-income people that manifested this past election. In our state, the attack took the form of a proposed Voter ID amendment that would have disenfranchised thousands in our communities.  The legislation, backed by local politicians connected to ALEC and other conservative interest groups, came at a time when the proportion of Minnesotans who are people of color has grown over 400 percent in the last 30 years – from 4 percent to 17 percent of the state population (MN Compass, Metropolitan Council).   Below are a few lessons gained from our work to defeat voter restriction in Minnesota.  These thoughts come directly out of conversations with leaders from communities of color who helped engage and inspire a critical group of voters to defeat the Voter ID amendment.

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From Me to You- A Letter of Apology by Lulete Mola

To the Many This Concerns,

I want to profusely apologize, on behalf of the nation of the United States of America if you were turned away from voting on or before November 6th, 2012. While I celebrate my residential and home state, Minnesota, voting against the Voter ID amendment, I also recognize that repressive voter restriction laws stand strong in many other parts of the country. Unfortunately, requiring government- issued photo identification has been used as just one of many tactics to disenfranchise low income people, the elderly, and college students this election cycle.  In states like California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and Arizona, citizens were confused and unsure if they could exercise their right to vote due to Voter ID amendments.  Of course, there are many things that can be complicated or confusing in life; but the right to vote should not be one of those things.

On Thursday, November 1st, I voted for the first time! Do you understand how powerful that was for me? Flaws and all, I have always admired the American government. Although there has been historical prejudice that still exists today in this country, I believe that there is no other nation like the United States of America. I believe that people can still make a difference in the United States of America. I believe that what we say can be heard if we say it loud enough in the U.S and our vote counts when we vote in the U.S.

I also strongly believe every citizen should have this right to vote. Every citizen should get to feel what I felt when I participated in the determination of the direction this nation was going. I felt privileged to vote to protect my rights.

I am sorry if you did not get to experience what I experienced. I am sorry if you felt like less of a citizen because you tried to speak and voter intimidation tactics were used to get you to shut up. I am sorry if someone even challenged your identity when you had a valid ID because of your class or skin color. I am sorry if you were told false information about polling locations and time to purposely keep you from casting your ballot. I apologize for all of these elements of injustice; we as a nation are better than this.

Going forward, know that there are so many organizations and individuals fighting for your rights to prevent this from happening again. After all, democracy is about the participation of the people, the voice of the majority.   And we are all part of the majority. 

Respectfully,

Lulete Mola

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