If voting yes on voter ID and the marriage amendment is “common sense,” then it’s time for Minnesota to be uncommon


“It’s common sense,” declare billboards encouraging Minnesotans to support voter ID in the upcoming election. Presumably supporters of the marriage amendment also regard it as “common sense” to define marriage as being “solely between one man and one woman.”

From a political standpoint, I can understand why supporters of voter ID are using the “common sense” line. It resonates with many Minnesotans’ impression of themselves as being responsible, down-to-earth citizens. With its explicit appeal to the common denominator, though, the “common sense” logic is alarmingly similar to the kind of logic that might have been employed to defend previous American injustices.

“Of course women aren’t suitable for voting or holding public office. Their realm is the home! It’s just common sense.”

“Naturally one must be able to read and write if one is to be informed enough to vote. That’s simply common sense!”

“There’s nothing wrong with separate but equal schooling—it’s equal, right? Of course it’s best to keep people of different races separate when it comes to education; that’s plain common sense.”

You know who was uncommon? Harriet Tubman. Susan B. Anthony. Martin Luther King. Harvey Milk.

There are some proudly uncommon names in Minnesota history too.

It was uncommon for Roy Wilkins to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People through the hardest days of the Civil Rights Movement.

It was uncommon for Eugene McCarthy to stand up to President Johnson and declare the Vietnam War an atrocity that needed to end.

It was uncommon for Hubert Humphrey to take the podium at the 1948 Democratic National Convention and make a passionate speech insuring that his party would take a stand in favor of civil rights.

“To those who say,” Humphrey declared, “that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late! To those who say, this civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!”

If it was late then, it’s far later now. If it’s now “common sense” to turn back the clock and disenfranchise a group of disproportionately poor, minority voters in the name of solving a fictional problem, if it’s now “common sense” to amend our state constitution to reinforce a discriminatory law that’s already in effect, then the time has come for Minnesotans to remember the lessons of our proudly progressive legacy and to be uncommon once again.