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LSS announces opposition to Voter ID amendment

LSS CEO Jodi Harpstead

For some people, getting a drivers license is just as simple as it sounds, explained Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) CEO Jodi Harpstead. But for others, often the most vulnerable members of society, it is not.

Harpstead recounts the story of Ron who lives in a small community in northern Minnesota and has voted at the same polling place for as long as he can remember. He knows all of the election judges and he lives within walking distance of the polling place.

Ron’s identification expired, but he didn’t think it was important to renew because he no longer drives. If the amendment passes, he can cast a provisional ballot on Election Day, but to validate it — within a few days — he would need to find a ride to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which is 37 miles away. He would then need to take his current identification with a slip from the DMV and go to the Elections office to verify his identity so that his vote will be counted.

LSS works with thousands of clients with circumstances similar to Ron. Harpstead explained in a letter to ELCA clergy in Minnesota, “While there is plenty of loud debate in Minnesota this season over many election issues and candidates, there is one issue that is getting less visibility and about which LSS feels uniquely qualified to speak out.

“Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is taking a public position to oppose the constitutional amendment on photo voter identification, which is slated for inclusion on the November 6, 2012, ballot. We believe that the photo voter identification amendment would put barriers in the way of voting for thousands of the neighbors LSS supports and serves on your behalf.”

Two years ago, at the urging of its former CEO, Mark Peterson, LSS updated its mission statement, which formerly read, “expressing the love of Christ through acts of service.” The new statement reads “expressing the love of Christ through service that inspires hope, changes lives, and builds community.”

“For us, ‘builds community’ implies building public will for the people we support and serve in addition to serving,” Harpstead said. “It is clear that, as the oldest and largest human services organization in Minnesota, we know some things that would be valuable for others to know, and we feel called to speak on behalf of the people we support and serve.”

The Rev. Laurie Eaton (at microphone), pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis, leads a clergy delegation expressing concerns that the proposed Voter ID Amendment will have a negative impact on the ability of church members and people using services to participate in future elections. Like LSS, ISAIAH is opposing the amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Photo provided by ISAIAH

“We believe that the photo voter identification amendment would put barriers in the way of voting for thousands of the neighbors LSS supports and serves on your behalf.”

“The [Voter ID] amendments sounds so simple, but it won’t be for lots of people,” Harpstead told Metro Lutheran. “For some it won’t be a big deal; for others it will create a real impediment,” said Harpstead. “Why do this when we don’t have a history of fraudulent elections in Minnesota?”

Making the vote more difficult for marginalized people

Virgil was born in the 1930s without hearing or sight. For decades, he lived with his mother on the family farm.

When his mother moved into a nursing facility, Virgil moved into a foster care home to receive assistance with his daily needs. When the staff tried to obtain photo identification for Virgil, they found that his name was spelled differently on his birth certificate than on his social security card. Government-issued photo identification could not be obtained until the name on the social security card matched the birth certificate. It took nearly a year to obtain photo identification.

By opposing the Voter ID amendment, LSS seeks to speak with and for the people whom they serve and support, according to Harpstead.

The letter sent by LSS to clergy leaders included background information, which pastors were encouraged to:

* include in congregational newsletters or bulletin inserts,

* use as a handout at forums discussing election issues,

* make copies and put in the narthex, and

* use as a catalyst for committee discussions.

“Our board of directors is currently crafting a framework for deciding the parameters of this new part of our mission, asking questions like, ‘Is this part of our mission or one of our board-crafted outcomes?’ and ‘Are we uniquely positioned to have a perspective on this?’

“The first test of our new mission came with the 2012 proposed amendments to the Minnesota Constitution,” said Harpstead.

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