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Voter restriction and anti-gay marriage amendments go down to surprising defeats in MN

by Brad Sigal |
November 8, 2012
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Mobilizing for a "no" vote in South Minneapolis the weekend before the election
Mobilizing for a "no" vote in South Minneapolis the weekend before the election (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Saint Paul, MN - On Nov. 6, Minnesotans voted down two controversial constitutional amendments that conservatives put on the ballot. An amendment that would have made gay marriage unconstitutional was defeated 51.2% to 47.6%. An amendment that would have put restrictive voter ID requirements into the state constitution - an effort to suppress voter turnout - was also defeated, 52.2% to 46.3%.

For several months support for a ‘no’ vote on the anti-gay marriage amendment gradually grew and got close enough to be within the polling margin of error, but never took a decisive or comfortable lead in pre-election polls. The climb was even steeper for opponents of the Voter ID amendment. When it was first proposed, the Voter ID amendment had about 80% support, and almost nobody thought it could be defeated. But a few progressive organizations and unions took on the challenge and month after month chipped away at the lead through grassroots organizing.

Like with the marriage amendment, opponents of the Voter ID amendment were consistently behind in the polls until the last pre-election poll surprised everyone and showed the ‘no’ vote slightly ahead. The final poll numbers held on Election Day, with the ‘no’ votes winning in one of the most dramatic electoral turnarounds in recent memory.

The defeat of these amendments was a stinging rebuke for the right wing in Minnesota, who put them on the ballot specifically in an attempt to increase conservative voter turnout in a presidential election year. They assumed the amendments would easily pass, as similar proposals have in other states.

The right wing even thought they had protected themselves against a progressive backlash by at first proposing, then deciding to scrap, a third referendum which would have attacked unions by trying to make Minnesota a ‘right to work’ state. By pulling that one back they presumably hoped to take union mobilization out of the equation on the other two amendments. But most unions went all in anyway to defeat the marriage and voter ID amendments, seeing them as part of an overall attack on democratic rights, and that the right wing would have attacked union rights next if they were successful on these ones.

So instead of increasing conservative voter turnout, the marriage and voter ID amendments seemed to have the opposite effect - they created a progressive outpouring that delivered a historic defeat for the two amendments, while also going further and eviscerating the Republicans’ short-lived majorities in the State House and Senate. Republicans had taken control of both houses in 2010 for the first time in a generation, but on Tuesday their fortunes were reversed. Republicans lost control of both houses, with the Democrats taking a 39-28 seat majority in the Senate and a 73-61 seat majority in the House.

In addition to the statewide reverberations, Minnesota voters’ rejection of both amendments bucks recent national trends on restrictive voter ID laws and gay marriage. In recent years, restrictive voter ID laws have passed in a majority of states. And until Tuesday, legalizing same-sex marriage had never happened through a ballot referendum - in fact it had lost more than 30 times in such votes. Six states and Washington D.C. had legalized gay marriage, but through court rulings or legislation, not referendums.

That all changed on Nov. 6, when a majority of voters in Maine, Washington and Maryland voted to legalize gay marriage. The Minnesota vote didn’t legalize gay marriage in the state; it only prevented its illegality from being written into the state constitution. Same-sex marriage continues to be illegal in the state due to existing legislation. But by voting against outlawing it in the constitution in the same year that voters in three other states voted to make it legal, the message is clear: the tide has turned and the struggle for marriage equality is on the offensive now instead of the defensive.

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