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Rogness announces MCC opposition to Voter ID amendment

Stating the ecumenical group’s concern about the creation of barriers to the right to vote for the poorest and most vulnerable Minnesotans, the Rev. Peter Rogness, bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod (ELCA), announced the Minnesota Council of Churches’ (MCC) opposition to the proposed Voter ID amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

Bishop Peter Rogness, Saint Paul Area Synod, ELCA, announced the Minnesota Council of Churches’ (MCC) opposition to the proposed Voter ID amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. MCC Executive Director Peg Chemberlin also spoke against the measure. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

“The two largest faith-based social service agencies in the state, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Service, a month ago took for them an unusual step and announced their opposition to the proposed amendment for the same reason — they work daily with populations that will be affected most, [including] the elderly, disabled, those in group homes, homeless youth and adults,” Rogness explained at a press conference at Central Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis, on October 16. “Add to them others — college students, people living in poverty whose housing is unstable and causing them to move often, deployed military — and it becomes clear that what is at issue is enfranchising or disenfranchising a substantial segment of our population.

“If this amendment passes, it will be up to voters to prove their right to vote, rather than the presumption of the voter’s integrity.”

“I tell you all this because it’s important to understand that this position does not arise because of the council’s position somewhere on the political spectrum,” Rogness continued. “We stand opposed not because we lean politically left or … politically right, but because as communities of faith, we lean towards those on the margins of society, those often overlooked by the mainstream, those often left voiceless in the decisions that affect their lives.”

Rogness also questioned the appropriateness of putting the burden of proof on the voter, recognizing that this country was founded on a principle of innocence until guilt is proven. “If this amendment passes, it will be up to voters to prove their right to vote, rather than the presumption of the voter’s integrity,” he told Metro Lutheran. He went on to ask why this is necessary when there is miniscule evidence of authentic fraudulent voting. “Minnesota has a reputation for free and clean elections.”

MCC encourages member judicatories to encourage the vote

“If ever there was a time to vote,” said the Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, executive director of MCC, “it is to vote to save the vote.” She said that though the amendment seems innocuous, it has serious consequences that could inhibit the voting rights of tens or hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.

MCC Executive Director Peg Chemberlin encourages people to rethink their support of the Voter ID amendment, due to the impact it could have on Minnesota's most vulnerable citizens. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

“Voting is a right,” Chemberlin continued. “When you register, you swear an oath that you are an American citizen over the age of 18. If someone votes fraudulently, they should be persued and prosecuted.” But, she said, people should not lose their opportunity to vote in the face of an amendment that does not adequately explain how it will be implimented.

Rogness, a member of the board of the MCC, provided further explanations for the decision of the MCC. “There are of course, other factors that carry implications for the moral dimensions of our common life [including] … the unfunded mandate that is estimated at anywhere from $12 to $40 million, causing a raft of local officials to be open in their opposition.” In addition, there concerns as to whether this proposal by the state legislature should be presented as a constitutional amendment or if it should have been handled legislatively.

The Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA voted in assembly to oppose this constitutional amendment at its assembly in May 2012.

The MCC represents one million Minnesotans through its 24 judicatory members in 15 denominations. These members include Mainline Protestant, Historic Black, and Orthodox judicatories, a group that has within it a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, racial, and ethnic demographics.

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