As the dust settled from last Tuesday’s election, one of the key players in the successful effort to defeat the proposed voter ID constitutional amendment reflected on how his side prevailed in the dramatic upset.
Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota (not the same Dan McGrath who coincidentally managed the pro-voter ID campaign), spent months suggesting that Minnesotans would turn against the proposed photo identification requirement once they learn more about it. That seemed unlikely a year ago when public opinion polls showed overwhelming support for voter ID. But in the end, that support was just 46 percent, well below the threshold needed to amend the constitution.
McGrath was intent on sharing credit and suggested several other campaign partners for interviews. But he still shared some thoughts on how it all happened. Voter ID supporters blamed it on outside money and misinformation. McGrath had other explanations.
Q: Can you pinpoint any one thing that caused this big turnaround?
A: “No, I don’t think it’s one thing. I do think there were several factors that over time coalesced to do this. It goes without saying that we peaked at the right time. That was critically important. There were no public or internal polls to the campaign that showed us in the lead until 72 hours before Election Day. So, we all had to go on faith that if we just kept at it we’d be able to lower support, increase the opposition and get there.”
Q: What were some of those factors?
A: “In May 2011, a Star Tribune poll said 80 percent of Minnesotans supported this. That put us in a position to do something pretty unorthodox. It is antithetical to the way electoral campaigns are organized that you would spend time trying to convince voters who plan to vote for your opponent to instead vote for you. But with 80 percent support, we had no choice. We had to go find a way talk to those folks.”
“So our first priority as a campaign from day one was to reframe the debate. We were really running against several years of legislative Republicans talking about voter fraud without providing any evidence and providing voter ID as a common sense solution. One of the most important things that Our Vote Our Future did is assemble a broad coalition of trusted incredible messengers to talk to the voting public. So even before we knew what to say, we assembled a coalition who could say it. People who had the credibility and standing in their communities to get voters to take a second look.”
“A second critical piece was that campaign wide we were very disciplined about our message, taking about costs, talking about the consequences, talking about how complicated it would be.”
Q: Do you believe you surprised the other side by not challenging the voter fraud claims?
A: “That’s right. I don’t believe that proponents were prepared to talk about anything but voter fraud. Once our campaign began to gain momentum and succeed in reframing the debate away from fraud and instead around to costs and complications and consequences, they seemed ill prepared to respond. They only had one talking point, and they didn’t know how to make a midstream adjustment.”
Q: How did you actually change the debate?
A: “This is a complicated issue. You can’t change someone’s mind in a soundbite. So, one key strategy was having in-person conversations. On average, after a voter heard from a volunteer about the costs and complications and consequences of the amendment, 20 to 30 percent of yes voters and undecided voters became no voters. So that’s an extraordinary shift, because we were actually pulling voters out of the yes column and moving them into the no column on a nightly basis, every phone bank, every time we were talking to people. Once we reached a scale where all of these different organizations were reaching out to their respective memberships and constituencies, we began to shift a lot of voters very quickly.”
“We also had 66 newspapers in the state endorse the no position on this amendment to only one that endorsed in favor of it. That is a phenomenal undertaking. I think we can’t underestimate how important that was as well.”
“And then the last strategy I would point to is the TV ad with Govs. Dayton and Carlson, I think was very, very important. What we heard from voters on the phone is that people saw that ad, that they responded to it.”
Q: Did you think your campaign efforts also helped the DFL win control of the Legislature?
“I can’t go that far. People all over the state came out and voted against this amendment. We know that vote no on voter ID out performed President Obama on the ballot here. I think that the constituencies that turned out to defeat this amendment also held accountable legislative Republicans for putting this on the ballot in the first place.”