Posted: 02/29/12 14:39
by Dave Mindeman
This is a true story.
Back in 2008 one of my customers came to me with a request.
First, I should give you some of her background. She is an older African-American lady who lives by herself. She moved here from Chicago several years ago. She doesn't have a car, relies on senior transportation services, and has difficulty getting around with severe arthritis.
She has a hard life. She relies on a small state stipend and lives in a very small apartment. She has a couple of friends who help out now and then, but doesn't seem to have a wide circle of people she knows. Her physical disabilities are severe and often, when we talk, she will be moved to tears about her pain and the endlessness of it.
But in the summer of 2008, she asked me something very different.
She said, "How can I vote?" "I want to vote for Barck Obama real bad. I have never voted before. How do I do it?"
She took me by surprise. She couldn't have known about my involvement in politics. I don't bring it to work. And she never struck me as anyone who would give politics the time of day. She just never discussed it.
Yet, there was a hopefulness in her eyes. She wanted to do this and needed help.
So, I proceeded to help. I got her a Voter Registration form and I helped her fill it out. She had some difficulty with identification... her birth certificate was in Illinois and of course, she did not drive. Another person helped her with the paper work to request a birth certificate copy. She was fortunate that she had asked about this in the summer....it gave us time to make it work.
As election day approached, I asked her if she needed a ride to the polls. She was relieved I had asked, because she said she would have had to take a taxi and she really couldn't have afforded it. Besides she wasn't sure where she needed to go.
I explained about polling places and told her I would find the place that fit her residence. I was pretty confident about that because it happens that I am the "keeper of the maps" for our Senate District.
Except, I goofed. When I took her to what I thought was her polling place, it turned out her apartment complex was on one of those border streets. One side goes to one precinct and the other side goes to another.
The election judges were helpful and got us pointed into the right direction. I apologized to my friend, but she took it all in stride. Although I could see that she was still in some pain.
I finally got her to the right place and her registration was listed properly in the book. I asked the judge if I could give her some physical assistance and they said that was fine. My friend got her ballot and we slowly trudged across the room to a voting desk. I explained what she needed to do to vote. She turned to me and asked..."I just want to vote for Barack Obama. Where do I do that?" I pointed out where the Presidential candidates were on the ballot and told her to fill in the arrow that matched up with his name. I felt a little awkward...as if I was helping too much. But her intent was pretty clear and it was the reason she was here.
She finished and we went back to the car. She was exhausted. I had to help her into the car seat and on the way back she fell asleep. When we got back to her apartment I felt guilty having to wake her up. But when she got reoriented, she had a smile on her face. She thanked me for my help and slowly made her way back into her apartment.
I have to tell you that I think of that lady when I hear the debate about Voter ID laws. If she hadn't asked me about voting when she did...and been able to go through the process with someone who helped her all along the way.... she would have been one of those people who would have had to go through same day registration. And if a Voter ID law was in effect, she would never have been able to fulfill this voting act that gave her so much pleasure and a sense of fulfillment.
There are a lot of people like my friend here. Don't let anyone convince you that Voter ID will NOT disenfranchise eligible voters.
Maybe 80% of Minnesotans agree with a Voter ID requirement, but we don't have to worry about them. Its that other 20% -people like my friend - who need to be given their right to vote the benefit of the doubt.