A letter from Former DNC Member Luchelle stevens
My name is Luchelle Stevens and I am a former DNC committeewoman from Minnesota and a labor organizer. I have spent most of my life in Democratic politics inspired by leaders like Paul Wellstone, Al Franken and Keith Ellison.
On November 6, 2012, I saw first hand the power that one voice can carry at shaping a narrative and inspiring elected officials, uncoordinated and coordinated organizations, organizers and millions of voters to protect their access to the ballot box.
This story starts earlier. In 2010, Republicans won complete control of the MN state legislature for the first time in 40 years and began to advance one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. The Governor, a Democrat, vetoed the measure.
In Minnesota, legislators can pass constitutional amendment ballot measures by simple majority without it ever touching the desk of the Governor. So in 2012, the legislature took the unusual step of approving two constitutional amendments and placed them before voters on the November 6th ballot, knowing the governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment.
The first limited the definition of marriage to a man and a woman. The second would have been the most restrictive voter ID law ever passed.
A poll was done shortly after both amendments passed. More than eighty percent of Minnesotans said they would support the voter ID law. This was truly staggering. Organizations and elected officials came together to discuss the strategy and there emerged a consensus: we should raise money for the legal battle because we can't win this at the ballot box.
There was one large and vocal dissenter: Keith Ellison. As many have said since (I wasn't in the room), a passionate discussion broke out with Keith defending the need to go door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor to talk about the importance of access to the ballot box.
While others were silent on the voter ID amendment, Keith and his team brought on organizers in the off-year to start canvassing around this issue. They were holding weekly and monthly calls with partners and organizations who would listen and they pushed the idea that this amendment could be defeated. In his district, Keith organized coffee clatch on weekend mornings, pizza and politics discussions in the evening, movies, forums and went church to church, senior home to senior home, dorm room to dorm room to talk to those who would be impacted the most.
Little more than money for staff, pizza and rental facilities had been spent in the first several months to organize opposition to this disastrous bill while other organizations sat on the sidelines or were too focused on the legislative session to organize.
Keith would reach out to colleagues who served in office, community leaders, and organization leaders. He would talk about what his campaign was doing to defeat the amendment and what his official office was doing to elevate the discussion of voting rights. More than six months after passage, another poll was conducted and saw approval of the Voter ID amendment drop from 80 to 65 percent.
Allies saw that the organized effort was working. They knew that if they formed a coalition as strong as those working on the marriage amendment, they could defeat the Voter ID amendment. I was proud to be asked by that coalition to come back and run the Our Vote Our Future Campaign built more than a year after the amendment passed the legislature to be put on the ballot.
Keith's campaign never let up. They organized around defeating both amendments. That year, his team made more than 1.9 million canvassing attempts. They had hundreds of press interviews around the state. They threw a sold out hip-hop concert at First Avenue in Minneapolis to get young people registered and pledging to vote no. They built a faith outreach program, disability outreach program and had an apartment program and identified every apartment unit over 5 in the district and knocked those doors. They spent so much money on pizza for volunteers they could have probably opened a franchise.
On Election Day, roughly 53% of Minnesotans rejected the harshest Voter ID law in the country. 1.5 million people. Thousands of volunteers. Dozens of organizations and staff and even a little budget for TV helped defeat it. It was a collaboration, a team effort and something for all Minnesotans to be proud of.
But, it wouldn't have been possible without the early work, leadership and vision of Keith. His commitment to organizing around our values, doing that work 365 days a year and investing in grassroots organizing led to the defeat of this awful amendment.
In fact, since coming to office, Keith has boosted turnout from 150,000 votes in a presidential year to more than 260,000. That helps down ballot races. In 2008, Senator Al Franken won by only 312 votes. But in 2014, because of increased turnout efforts, he won by 200,000 votes. In 2010, Mark Dayton was elected in 2010 by 10,000 votes. When he came up for reelection in 2014, he won by 100,000 votes.
We shouldn't undermine or undervalue the work of other Democrats in the state and their ability to run effective, grassroots based campaigns. But it is clear that Keith's effort to organize his district has lead to big victories that can be translated across this country.