ST. PAUL — The next presidential election is looming, and those on both sides of the political spectrum are voicing anxieties about the modern electoral process. Through the course of the legislative session, several lawmakers have raised concerns about the changes they see in all elections.
When Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, weighed in on recent legislation that would allow high school students to pre-register to vote, he elaborated on the larger political implications of legislation around the country having to do with voter registration. In particular, Anzelc criticized Republican bills aimed at preventing voter fraud.
“We just concluded a period where the Republican-leaning members of the Legislature have been interested in making it harder for people to vote because they’re hung up on what they think is voter fraud in the state,” said Anzelc. “I’ve concluded based upon the data I’ve seen there isn’t the level of voter impropriety that they thought there was. So now we may be going into a period where people are promoting voting.”
Though Anzelc is critical of Republican legislators, Rep. John Petersburg, R–Owatonna, has said he would encourage higher voting numbers among underrepresented demographics. Petersburg believes that the fast-paced world of today has left many people disenfranchised by the deliberate slowness of the political process.
“In recent generations you have people who have lived with things like the Internet, cell phones, email, so it’s easy to understand why they might be turned off by politics, which are by necessity much slower,” said Petersburg. “And it has to be. We’re making big decisions that affect thousands of people, we need to make choices carefully.”
Petersburg continued, “If there’s a way we can get people to once again participate in the political process, we should do everything in our power to do so.
“We have the greatest system of government on Earth, but it cannot function without political involvement. And in our system, you have to get as many people as possible to come down to the table and work together to figure out what’s the best decision for everybody.”
Unlike many of his Democratic colleagues, Petersburg doesn’t see the controversial Citizen’s United U.S. Supreme Court decision as an impediment to the campaign process. In fact, Petersburg believes the decision levels the playing field between two competing interests.
“Some people are concerned with corporations putting their money into politics, but they conveniently forget that unions and non-profit organizations are allowed the same privilege,” said Petersburg. “If you’re going to apply a rule to one, you should apply that to the other. And that is the law of the land, and people should respect that law, or go through the proper procedures to change it. But it’s what (the Supreme Court) has decided.”
Of course, money in campaigns doesn’t only come from donations. When asked her opinion of raising the wage of commissioners at the Capitol, Rep. Carly Melin, DFL– Hibbing, said the higher wages were necessary if Minnesota wants to see lawmakers who accurately represent the people of their districts.
“If we only have a wealthy people and older people appointed or running for office, you’re leaving out a very broad part of the population,” said Rep. Melin. “And I believe our ability to best serve Minnesota is to have people of all different backgrounds, different ages and income levels in order to actually reflect the population of Minnesota. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a body that is independently wealthy or has some kind of income outside the Legislature.”
Of course, statistics show that many big-name politicians throughout the United States are independently wealthy, regardless of what area they represent.
Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL–Virginia, said that recent election law changes have skewed the playing table. Metsa particularly has a different stance on the Citizen’s United decision, which he said has unfairly impacted the face of the modern election.
“I honestly think that too much money is in politics right now,” said Metsa. “Citizens United was a terrible decision. You got people flooding the airwaves with their messaging, and if you have a bunch of money to spend you can really get your message out.
“I don’t want to stifle people from having an opinion, but when it comes to election politics should one group have that much airtime? If you let two candidates run against each other, they should spend the same amount.”
Even St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson has noticed changing cultural trends at the local level of elections. While not being a part of a partisan office, Nelson said he was alarmed by the changing rhetoric touting the value of ideology over one’s own region.
“I’m in a nonpartisan office,” said Nelson, “but I can say that our political system is in trouble when people from any political party believe that their party is more important than their nation, their counties and cities.
“And I’ve heard from people who honestly see their party as more important than their region. It’s frightening to think about, but this is our political climate.”