Democracy grows stronger when every eligible voter can vote | Opinion
Voters lined up outside the Boone County Government Center to cast absentee ballots in November 2020 (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).
Despite being struck down twice as unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court, legislation restricting who can vote is again being considered by state lawmakers.
These laws would prohibit eligible voters from casting a ballot unless they present a government-issued ID with a photo of the voter. This is even though current forms of ID have not caused local election officials’ problems in identifying voters.
Missouri law currently allows identification at the polls in multiple forms. Examples include a state-issued photo ID, documents such as a recent utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check that contains the voter’s name and address. Voters can also use their voter identification cards issued by the local election clerk.
Current legislative proposals would prohibit any non-photo forms of identification when voting. Only a photo ID such as a state-issued drivers’ license or other specific photo ID would be allowed to vote.
As a former elections director in the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office — a nonpartisan position — I know how our elections work. My concerns come from experience, rather than parroting a viewpoint of a political party.
Missourians need to be aware of the impacts of the proposed photo ID legislation.
- The requirement affects our most vulnerable registered voters – the elderly, shift workers, people who earn low wages and cannot afford to take off work and those who rely on public transportation. Many of these residents are unable get to a motor vehicle office (DMV) during business hours to obtain a state-issued photo ID or obtain the required underlying documents such as a birth certificate.
- The legislation creates obstacles to vote for a considerable number of registered voters – as many as 200,000 – who do not have a photo ID. Both Republican and Democratic elected officials acknowledge that a sizable number of registered voters do not have DMV state-issued photo IDs. Missouri Secretary of State Ashcroft reported in 2017 that 137,723 registered voters did not have DMV-issued photo ids and 104,070 registered voters had expired DMV-issued photo IDs.
- Such a law disproportionately discriminates against people of color who studies consistently show are less likely to have a photo ID.
- If passed, this legislation creates an unconstitutional and severe burden on the right to vote, which is why the Missouri Supreme Court found that the previous laws requiring photo ID to vote are unconstitutional. In their ruling, the Supreme Court said the State must demonstrate a compelling interest to create such a severe burden for more than 200,000 registered voters.
- This legislation is fiscally irresponsible. Millions of taxpayer dollars would have to be spent to defend a law as it winds its way through the courts only to be struck down once again by the Supreme Court.
Current Missouri law has a standard of integrity that requires every registered voter bring identification containing their name and current address to their polling place. Before the voter receives a ballot, an election worker matches the voter identification to the voter’s registration and confirms their current address with the voter.
Democracy grows stronger when every eligible voter votes. Consider whether these proposed laws strengthen our democracy or serve as an unnecessary obstacle for those who have a constitutional right to vote.
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