St. Paul, MN – The fate of voting by active-duty troops and military personnel overseas drew further scrutiny today when veterans of three wars spanning three generations banded together at a Capitol news conference to urge Minnesotans to vote NO on a constitutional amendment restricting voting. As written, the amendment would pose hurdles for hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, with military personnel as those facing some of the greatest risks.
Todd Pierce, a 37-year major in the U.S. Army, and JAG officer, who worked as a HAVA and UOCAVA director in the office of Secretary of State under both Mary Kiffmeyer and Mark Ritchie, said the amendment as written “would serve as a big step backwards toward recent reforms that have made voting for military personnel easier and more efficient. This amendment, as the language was spelled out by the Minnesota legislature, would make voting for our troops and personnel abroad much more complex. And it won’t just affect active-duty military but veterans too.”
Currently, military voters can self-certify their absentee ballots, aiding voter participation by active-duty personnel who would otherwise have to hunt down someone to certify their ballot at an embassy or other government agency. Pierce said “the waffling language in the amendment makes it unclear how it will affect absentee and military voting.”
Pierce said he believes the amendment language, including a single line placed on the ballot, is “overly simple, deceitful and misleading.” He emphasized that federal laws do not override state laws, especially a permanent change to the constitution. At question, he believes, is whether a military ID would count if the amendment were to pass on Tuesday. “A ballot, even if it is cast abroad, may not be counted by local elections officials back home due to the language contained in this voter restriction amendment.”
Pierce was joined by El Ewert and Joseph Rukavina, veterans who both served in the Pacific during World War II. Ewert said the voter restriction amendment would “be bad for Minnesota as it would put up hurdles that seniors, veterans and others would find difficult to overcome – especially us elderly kids.”
Rukavina, who served on Iwo Jima, and was a high-school history teacher for 36-years, is concerned about costs which estimates say could top $50 million. “This poorly written amendment should be sent back to the legislature, it doesn’t belong in our constitution. Our local governments can’t afford it, our counties can’t pay for it. We need our money for our schools, our police and firefighters. I voted NO by absentee ballot two weeks ago and I hope Minnesotans will also vote NO on the voter restriction amendment.”
Nancy Davis-Ortiz, a women veterans advocate and 29-year veteran of the U.S. Army, said “my oath to serve the constitution didn’t go away when I retired. And this oath means protecting everyone’s constitutional right to vote.”
Ashwin Madia, a lawyer and Marine who served in Iraq, who served as press conference emcee, said that the tide has turned against the amendment in recent weeks due to the costs and complications posed to so many eligible voting constituencies, especially veterans and military personnel. “The more people look at this amendment, the less they like it. We’re urging Minnesotans to vote NO on Tuesday and send this back to the legislature to fix. Our troops protecting our freedoms abroad now, and in the past, deserve no less.”
In the past few weeks, more than 60 newspapers across the state have come out opposed to the voter restriction amendment, urging their readers to vote NO. Polling has also dropped significantly, tightening the race and bringing it to a virtual tie.