by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
In this final week of the 94th General Assembly, its Republican leaders are pushing through a so-called voter ID measure, which would require voters to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot come November.
Doing so is no easy task. First a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution must be passed to make a voter ID law legal. This is a required step because the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a previous voter ID bill because it violated Missouri’s Constitution. All amendments to the constitution must be approved by the voters, so the Republican majority has rewritten that section of the constitution and is planning to put its changes to the voters during the August primary election.
Simultaneously, a voter ID bill that would take effect after August but before November is being rushed through the legislature. If lawmakers are not able to get this step completed in the next few days, the governor seems prepared to assist by calling the General Assembly into special session over the summer to pass the measure.
I’m sure you’re thinking that such urgent action must be driven by rampant voter identification fraud occurring throughout the state. Nope. In fact, there is not even one example of voter ID fraud that House Speaker Rod Jetton, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons and Gov. Matt Blunt can point to to justify their frenzy to erect an additional requirement for voting. Not one single example.
Now, there are several examples of fraudulent voting in Missouri. Examples I can find include paying someone to vote, voting in two states in the same election and absentee ballot fraud. But requiring voters to present a Missouri photo ID at their polling place will do nothing to address the known examples of voter fraud.
What will it do? Well, judging from the results of last Tuesday’s Indiana primary, it will effectively bar a number of legitimate voters from casting a ballot. You see, all this recent action was triggered by a voter ID bill in Indiana that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last month, that court ruled that states could require voters to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.
Indiana’s May 6 election was the first to be held with the new requirements for a government photo ID. As a result of this requirement, at least a dozen elderly nuns, several recently married women who changed their names when they married and a number of students with out-of-state driver’s licenses were unable to cast ballots.
As in Missouri, Indiana didn’t have even one case of voter ID fraud before implementing its law. So by disenfranchising these voters, Indiana has managed to prevent zero cases of voter ID fraud.
Why would something so costly and ineffectual be a good model for our state? Because the leaders of the Missouri Republican party believe it will help depress votes within Democratic constituencies.
You see, the problem for some in obtaining a Missouri photo ID is not schlepping down to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get their photo taken but rather coming up with the necessary documentation – a birth certificate or passport – to get an ID. A recent study found that about 7 percent of Americans don’t possess the needed documentation to obtain a photo ID and that most of these people are either women, elderly or poor voters whose main concerns might not be eliminating the estate tax or other Republican objectives.
But it is not just the elderly or poor who have trouble getting the needed documentation. One young Missourian who was born in Mississippi has found he needs his birth certificate to obtain a Missouri photo ID. But to get a copy of his birth certificate from Mississippi, he needs a photo ID from his current state of residence. So unless he goes back to Mississippi, he is stuck in a bureaucratic Catch 22 that will leave him unable to vote if Jetton, Gibbons and Blunt get their way.
It’s clear that a number of residents without the luxury of extra time or money will not be able to obtain the needed documents and will be prevented from voting come November.
Frankly, I doubt blocking some potential Democratic voters from casting a ballot will make the difference for the Republicans come fall. But if they are so eager to hold on to their power, you’d think that the Republican Party’s leaders would try to make college more affordable or health care more available to show they can make government work for the people instead of using their power to disenfranchise a portion of our fellow Missourians.
The sad fact is that the Jetton-Gibbons-Blunt voter ID measure is at best a poll tax on a special segment of the population and at worse a taking of a person’s legal right to vote.