Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #132. First published in the St. Cloud Times online June 30, 2018; in print July 1

As our nation prepares to celebrate its 242nd birthday on Wednesday, assaults on some hitherto widely accepted norms of public behavior make front page headlines — a tsunami of new normals.

Other fearful things, though, are under the radar or in the shadows or through the looking glass. Pick your metaphor.

Three current back page stories recount erosion of something the revolutionaries of 1776 went to war for: the right to vote.

1.) Voter rolls are purged: A citizen of Ohio, Navy veteran Larry Harmon, voted in the 2004 and 2008 elections, but not in 2010, 2012 and 2014. In 2015 he went to vote on a ballot initiative, and discovered he had been un-registered, and the registration deadline had passed.

Taking this to court didn’t help. Five U.S. Supreme Court justices upheld Ohio’s method of purging registration lists. Anyone who doesn’t vote in two successive general elections (think about a soldier on repeated deployments, or someone who is homeless or someone who got several promotions and had to move within Ohio) is mailed a notice to the address on record. If there is no reply to the postcard, the state removes that person from the voting rolls.

Why this additional barrier? All research debunks the claim that there is widespread voter fraud. Voter suppression, however, is rampant.

Fortunately, we in Minnesota aren’t subject to the Ohio purge. But the Supreme Court has opened the door. We must remain vigilant lest state officials in subsequent years, intent on voter suppression, look longingly to Ohio.

2.) Gerrymandering is unabated: Gerrymandering is the drawing of district lines so that one party has an insurmountable advantage.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican former governor of California, calls it “one of the biggest scams politicians have ever pulled on the American people. Gerrymandering isn’t a political issue. It is a power issue. Republicans who have power gerrymander. Democrats who have power gerrymander.”

Just last Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that most of the disputed Republican-generated maps in Texas and North Carolina should stand (even though the North Carolina legislator responsible for drawing the map said he did so because “electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats”). Earlier, the Supreme Court had punted on replacement of a Democrat-generated map in Maryland and a Republican one in Wisconsin. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that state’s Republican-generated map gerrymandered, and redrew the boundaries. In other words, things are up in the air.

Currently, redistricting in Minnesota is solely in the hands of legislators, who choose their voters, not the other way around.

Minnesota needs to be proactive, to assure that in 2022, when the map is redrawn following the 2020 census, voting districts for both Congress and the state legislature are fair and as non-partisan as possible.

Every candidate for Minnesota statewide office and the legislature this year and in 2020 should be asked to go on record as for or against Minnesota Senate bill SF2052.

SF2052 calls for a redistricting commission, comprised of seven retired judges of appellate or district courts who have not served in a party-designated or party-endorsed position, appointed, one each, by the Senate majority and minority leaders, speaker and minority leader of the House, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, chief judge of the Court of Appeals and governor.

A Redistricting Commission wouldn’t be perfect, but its map would come much closer to one-person-one-vote than one drawn by any majority party in the legislature.

3.) The census is being rigged: The census plan was changed in March when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that he had directed the Census Bureau to add an untested and unnecessary question to the 2020 form, which would ask the citizenship status of every person in America. This move was instigated by, among others, Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, who was recently instructed by a federal judge to take more hours of continuing legal education. 

The Constitution calls for enumerating “all the persons” in each state. It does not say “all natural-born citizens” or even “all citizens.” There are many persons who, in the current political climate, would be understandably wary of answering a citizenship question. The Census Bureau is prohibited by law from revealing personal information to other entities, but the record of government keeping secrets is not encouraging. The count may well be off by millions.

And the consequences of a miscount ripple out — not only apportionment of congressional seats, but also allocation of public resources, and even decisions by businesses on where to relocate.

The Census Bureau is accepting public comment on the proposal until August 7. Please join me (and career staff at the Bureau) in telling them that the hastily added citizenship question is not part of their mandate (

Sending such a message is a good way to celebrate Independence Day.