Last night's Post-Bulletin Dialogues event on the proposed constitutional amendment to require photo IDs drew a big crowd -- we packed more people into the Rochester Public Library auditorium than for any previous Dialogues meeting, and we've been doing this for more than five years.
The credit goes to state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, former U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht, former Gov. Arne Carlson and Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who explained what's at stake and spoke at times eloquently about the proposed amendment -- Kiffmeyer and Gutknecht for it, Carlson and Brede against.
Here's the top to reporter Heather Carlson's news story:
A standing-room-only crowd packed the Rochester Public Library
auditorium Wednesday night to hear supporters and opponents of the
proposed Minnesota voter ID amendment make their case.
About 150 people attended the Post-Bulletin Dialogues community meeting on the proposal, which is one of two constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Post-Bulletin Managing Editor Jay Furst moderated the event, with state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and former 1st District Rep. Gil Gutknecht speaking in favor of the amendment, and Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede and former Gov. Arne Carlson speaking against it.
Kiffmeyer, who was Minnesota's secretary of state from 1999 to 2006, sponsored the amendment in the House. The proposal would require all voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. She said the amendment is intended to protect the integrity of the state's election system. After the 2008 election, the legitimacy of 6,224 voters was challenged, and that year's U.S. Senate race between DFLer Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman was decided by 318 votes.
"With a photo ID, you can know and the public does have the right to know who you are and that you are an eligible voter," Kiffmeyer said. "That is a vested interest of all citizens in an election."
Opponents argued that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state and that a photo ID law would create barriers to eligible voters. Carlson said the amendment's impact is far broader than just requiring voter ID and details have yet to be worked out as to how absentee balloting, mail-in balloting and military voting would be addressed.
"You are being asked to go to the car lot and buy a car, and when you inquire as to how it works, 'Trust me it works.' How about the mileage? 'Trust me, it's great.' How about the price? 'Trust me, after you buy it, I'll send you the bill,'" said Carlson, a Republican who was governor from 1991 to 1999.
Most of the questions Wednesday night were directed at Kiffmeyer and Gutknecht and had a sharp edge to them. Kiffmeyer bristled at times at the aggressive questioning and the generally partisan response from the audience, and the dialogue between the panelists was at times just as pointed.
That accurately portrays the tone of the meeting, I believe, though Kiffmeyer would be justified to choose stronger words for the tense atmosphere in the room. After the meeting, I heard a few audience members aggressively questioning her, which I thought was inappropriate, and I guided her out of the room. A young man shouted at her (more on that in a second) and I told him to back off.
Kiffmeyer told me, outside the room, that it was the most negative experience she's had related to the amendment, though I didn't get a chance to ask her more.
I plan to call all four participants today to thank them and get their feedback on the event, but here's my feedback to last night's audience:
Thank you for being there. The turnout was a good indication of the level of interest in this proposed amendment, and in the election generally.
We all have strong political opinions and care passionately about issues. This issue generates a lot of passion and intensity.
I asked repeatedly for civility and good manners last night, and considering the issue, and the fact that most of the room was intensely partisan (explicitly DFL-leaning), most people obliged. I asked for no applause, for people to identify themselves before asking questions, to be polite and attentive, and generally people cooperated. There was more noise and chatter in the back of the room whenever Kiffmeyer and Gutknecht spoke, but it was a big crowd, a lot of people were standing for 90 minutes and the room got hot after awhile.
Virtually all the questions were addressed to Kiffmeyer and Gutknecht -- often with aggressive personal opinions. Halfway through the meeting, I sought out questions for Carlson and Brede, and there were a few, though as I said at the meeting, one of the reasons to keep any meeting civil is to encourage everyone to speak up.
Pro-amendment people, including Kiffmeyer and Gutknecht, would be justified to say they felt unwelcome in the room last night, which is unacceptable to me. We can disagree without being disagreeable, as I believe Gutknecht said, but the way it turned out, the tone of the meeting and the conversations afterward were often disagreeable.
Regarding the man who shouted at Kiffmeyer afterward, he apologized to me later and said it was the result of mistaken identity, which is kinda ironic.
Several people told me afterward that they appreciated our work to put meetings of this kind together, and I enjoy doing these things. I always learn a lot and meet new people. These meetings represent a genuine commitment on our part to connect people -- readers, citizens, taxpayers -- with experts, decision-makers and community leaders.
These meetings only work if people treat each other with respect and dignity. Again, we all have strong opinions on issues such as voter ID, but that's no excuse for treating people in a forum of this kind with disrespect.
Last points regarding the substance of the meeting:
- I promised last night that we'll publish the full text of the amendment before Nov. 6, most likely early next week. There's a long excerpt in Friday's Answer Man column.
- I'll also put links on this blog (and elsewhere) to some of the documents referred to last night, including the research papers that estimate the projected cost of implementing the amendment.
- I don't know who was videotaping the meeting last night...several people asked me afterward, and I meant to ask who was doing it -- it wasn't a P-B staffer. Next time I'll ask, but if you know, please tell me. Also next time, it would be more polite to ask if it's OK to videotape. That's information I should have, if only to share with panelists.
- If you have feedback for me, pass it along. This moderator thing is not exactly my day job...I'd be glad to hear your advice.