Monday, November 5, 2012
Learning to Vote
*Disclaimer: First and foremost I want to say I am writing this blog to help educate people who may not know where, when or how to register to vote. Certainly there are aspects to my personal experience that would have been different if I had been aware of information sooner rather than later. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to educate themselves, but it doesn't mean we cannot help each other along the way.
I moved to Rochester, Minnesota 5 months ago. Previously, I had been living in bordering state of Wisconsin. I had lived in Wisconsin for almost ten years, and in that time I voted in two presidential elections, and a few local elections. I had also been issued two Wisconsin State Drivers Licenses.
Now, on the eve of my third presidential election, I find myself living in a new state, with new and different laws. I don't remember exactly when I registered to vote in Wisconsin-- most likely at the polls, and all I had to bring with me was a piece of mail with my name and address on it. Maybe it was a paycheck, or possibly a utility bill. I'm sure I had a Wisconsin State Driver's License with me, but it wasn't required.
Living in Minnesota, a resident can register to vote without proof of residence by filling out a voter registration card up to 20 days before the election. After that cut off point you have two options, Option A) Register to vote late at the voting registration office and have a Late Registration Card sent to you that can be used as proof of residence, or Option B) Register at the polls on election day, with exceptions.
I missed the 20 day cut-off for registering to vote. Ok, I thought, no big deal, I will just register at the polls. Except, to register at the polls you DO need a Minnesota State ID to register, even though in this election cycle Voter ID requirements are on the ballot.
Ok, I thought, I need to get a driver's license, shouldn't be too hard, I need to get one anyway since I live in a new state, should be easy, it was easy in Wisconsin.
I got up at 7:00 AM today so I could be at the Drivers License Office at 8:00 AM when the office opened. Upon arrival, I fill out the application, and step into line. When I am called up to the counter, I explain I need to apply for a MN Drivers License. The man behind the counter tells me I will have to take a written exam but to do that I ALSO need a copy of my birth certificate or a passport--neither of which I have on hand.
So, I go back home, find the copy of my birth certificate (a photocopy of the original I have never owned. A photocopy that has been good enough for any other official use I have ever needed it for) read through the drivers manual online to brush up on everything I already know, and then drive back to the office.
The line is longer now, nearing 10:00 AM. I step into line, and in a few minutes I am called back up to the counter and present my documentation. And I am told once again this is not good enough. I need an actual CERTIFIED COPY of my Birth Certificate, which I don't have. I don't know if even my father has one. I am told to call my parents and get an actual certified copy and then come back.
I was born in Ohio. My father lives in Montana. There is no way I am getting a certified copy of my birth certificate in time to take a written drivers test so I can get a receipt for a drivers license that will be my proof of residency in order for me to vote tomorrow. *Remember, 20 days ago, I could have just registered without any of this trouble, without showing an id, without any proof that the address I put on the card is my actual address.
So now I am really upset. I feel like crap, I can't vote tomorrow. What the hell do I do now? The only thing I can do--call my friend in Wisconsin, who has taken me to vote an other occasions, and cry over the phone. She talks me down so I can drive home.
Yet, I don't want to quit. I want to MAKE SURE I cannot use my Wisconsin State Drivers License as an ID tomorrow along with a utility bill. So I call the number listed on the How To Vote in Olmsted County website (its the 507 number listed to the left of the page) and a woman picks up. I tell her my situation and that I want to make sure I cannot use my out of state license to vote tomorrow, and you know what she tells me?
She tells me I CAN use my out of state license to vote. I clarify the question and ask again, and she gives me the same answer. Yes, I can use my Wisconsin state license in Minnesota to vote. I thank her and end the call.
Something doesn't seem right. I just don't be believe it. It doesn't say anywhere on the websites I have been reading that you can use an out of state license. I know that was my question and of course I want the answer to be in the affirmative, but I also know enough to double, and sometimes triple check sources.
So, I call the State Voter Outreach Hotline which can be found at the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State website. I used the 1-877 number, followed the prompts and was eventually led to a real person who I could ask the same question "Can I use my out of state license to vote tomorrow"... and he told me, "unfortunately no" . I then to tell him that my county voting registration office is giving the wrong information and I give him the phone number for the Olmsted Office here in Rochester.
I told him that I could not get a drivers license before tomorrow. He suggested I get a neighbor to vouch for me. I off handedly mention that I have an expired Military Issued ID from when my father was in the NAVY, and he said that might work. He puts me on hold, I get to listen to cool music for 30 seconds, and then he gets back on the line and tells me "YES", the expired military issued ID should work to register to vote tomorrow.
Yes, I can vote. Thank Goodness for Voter Outreach. Thank Goodness I never throw away old ID Cards.
The moral of my story is: take time to find out what is going on in your state. Even though I have been incredibly busy with my new job, had I just spent a little time researching this stuff a 3 weeks ago, I wouldn't have had to go through all this right before the election.
If you have friends moving to a new state, take a few minutes to "mom" them about the requirements of registering to vote or getting a new drivers license if you happen to know the information. Do what my Wisconsin friend did, and drive others to register. Who or what you vote for is your business, but helping others learn how to vote is something we can all benefit from.
Get a copy of your Birth Certificate. Most people don't seem to have this, but at some point in time it seems likely you will need it. Save yourself the headache and get one before you actually need it.
I'm lucky I have an expired military issued ID so I can vote tomorrow, but most people don't--and even though we all have neighbors, I think many people would be too embarrassed to ask a neighbor, who in my situation are pretty much strangers, to vouch for me to vote...but it is still an option here in Minnesota, and if it is the only thing keeping you from voting, its time to swallow some pride and ask for help.
Mostly, I am just frustrated by the misinformation I was given to me by county office. Always question, and double, triple check sources.
For the future, I am using this as a learning experience for when I may have to move to a new state. Until today, I have never known what it felt like to essentially be told I cannot perform one of my given rights. In the grand scheme, there are much worse things to be denied, but being on this end of it for even just a few hours was enough for me to make sure it never happens to me again, and to do my best to help someone else in a similar situation.
For future reference, the websites on voting in Minnesota and Wisconsin are listed below: