Exercising a Cherished Right

Notes from Executive Director Steve Cramer – Summer 2012

In recent years PPL has devoted significant attention to measuring the true impact of our work. I have to acknowledge this is a challenging endeavor, especially when what we strive to help people accomplish – greater self-sufficiency – is inherently hard to quantify and is highly individualized. We are all on a journey in life, but everyone heads down the path from different starting points and with differing resources to draw on along the way. Given this variability, it’s difficult to conclude one person is becoming more self-sufficient relative to another whose circumstances aren’t the same.

In all honesty there is an important “we’ll know it when we see it” quality to evaluating our work. Certain indicators tell us an individual or family is moving to a stronger more stable point, attending not only to immediate personal needs but also finding ways to connect with the larger community by sharing in and contributing to our collective life.

One such indicator is involvement at the most basic level in our democratic process by voting in elections. Voting regularly is something a surprisingly small percentage of Americans do, although Minnesotans traditionally are at the top of the list. PPL works hard to promote this fundamental means of civic engagement through voter registration efforts, sponsoring and supporting issue forums, disseminating objective candidate information, and providing transportation to the polls. The differences of political thought among the people we work with matches their diversity in other ways, which is exactly as it should be in our pluralistic society. Participation, not partisan position, is the point!

From this standpoint I and others at PPL are quite worried about the impact of the “Voter ID” ballot question this fall. A survey we conducted among program participants earlier this year revealed the constitutional amendment would create new barriers to voting for some students in our schools and many adults. They don’t now have the specific, limited form of required identification, and acquiring such documentation would be a practical hardship due to costs, difficulty obtaining “proof of self ” verification such as a birth certificate, and frequent address changes. Today, these are members of our community who would be welcomed with open arms at the polls. In future elections, perhaps not, even though they are the same people, living the same lives, seeking to exercise what has been seen as a cherished right to be promoted, not proscribed.

While I try to look beyond the ideological fervor on all sides of this debate, it’s hard not to notice that many of the strongest advocates for the amendment are also quick to call for greater personal responsibility among low-income citizens. To an organization actually working with people to achieve that very result, blocking access to one important means of expressing responsibility appears a curious approach.

For this reason the PPL Board of Directors adopted a position opposing Voter ID. For our Board Members, drawn from many walks of life, this wasn’t a matter of politics. It was an expression of serious concern the amendment impedes the ability of people we work with to share in our common obligation of responsible self-governance.

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