As a former high school English teacher, I have read and graded a number of essays, research projects and even titles that lack coherence and violate correct usage of our language. Now I find that Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, sought to try his hand at re-wording the titles for two constitutional amendments scheduled for the general election ballot this November but forgot about basic rules in English.
The result of these changes tell us one of two things, either the wording for these questions are completely politically motivated in an attempt to confuse voters, or Secretary Ritchie’s editing simply deserves a failing grade.
In 2008, Secretary Ritchie was faced with his first chance at this when the DFL-led Legislature passed what is commonly known as the Legacy Amendment. The preferred title indicated by the Legislature was “Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage, and Natural Areas.” This title omitted the fact that the amendment contained a sales tax increase, a funding formula different for each of four main sources and specific criteria for allocation of funding. Unconcerned with those omissions, Ritchie placed that title on the ballot.
Fast forward to 2012 and a GOP-led Legislature. The Secretary of State is faced with two similar amendments, one of which is known to most as the Marriage Amendment with the title given by the Legislature: “Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman.”
The other is a photo ID voting requirement originally entitled “Photo identification required for voting.”
Ritchie publically opposes these titles, indicating that they are not clear enough for voters. Attempting to rectify this supposed problem, he took the unprecedented step of rewriting the title of the Marriage Amendment to read “Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples,” raising serious questions about coherence in regard to legislative intent.
In addition, he has edited the title of the photo ID voting requirement to “Changes to in-person & absentee voting & voter registration; provisional ballots.” Again, coherence and usage of language are definitely lacking in this title based on legislative intent.
Assuming for a moment that these changes were not politically motivated in an attempt to confuse voters, let’s examine the meaning of both of these new titles. “Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples” indicates that the status of marriage to same sex couples is currently permitted by law (it is not) and will be revoked if the measure is to pass.
“Changes to in-person & absentee voting & voter registration; provisional ballots” fails to even mention the resulting change in action for voters: the fact that they will have to show an ID!
The fact that Secretary Ritchie was willing to omit important details to the public in 2008 and now has made drastic changes that are incoherent because they leave out important details, leads me to one of two conclusions: Either Ritchie’s publically stated opposition to the amendments has influenced his official decision-making in regard to his taxpayer funded position of authority or his knowledge of English usage and the meaning of coherence are not his strengths.