Mo.Voter ID Debate is Down to the Wire: Early Voting Provision Rejected by Advocates

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

The Missouri legislature is once again pushing a controversial measure to combat a mythical problem in the state—registration and voter fraud. The costly measure that critics say is "based on a lie and emotional fear" would essentially amend the state constitution to enact a 2006 photo voter ID law that was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.  In the last days of the legislative session, tension mounts over the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters to prevent a crime that has never occurred in the state.

Although it passed the House, a proposed measure to require photo voter ID and provide limited "advance voting" was generally "panned" at a Senate committee hearing on Monday, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune. Election officials and voting rights groups questioned the true intentions of the advance voting provision and criticized the photo ID provision’s estimated $20 million price tag during a state budget crisis.

"It costs too much for a problem that doesn’t exist," said Columbia resident, Kathleen Weinschenk. "The proposal is based on a lie and emotional fear. The truth is there is currently no voter impersonation fraud at the polling place."

Weinschenk, who has cerebral palsy, "was the lead plaintiff in a 2006 lawsuit that prompted the state Supreme Court to nullify a previous voter ID law," the Daily Tribune reported.

Voting rights advocates are concerned with the disenfranchising impact photo voter ID would have on more than 200,000 Missourians who do not have any of the limited IDs permitted under the bill. This includes the elderly and disabled, voters who cannot afford or locate the documents necessary to obtain state ID, as well as those who hold a religious belief against obtaining photo ID.

"While [the House Bill] allows a voter to execute an affidavit stating that the voter cannot afford the
documentation (e.g., a birth certificate) necessary to obtain the required identification, this affidavit will
only enable her to vote by provisional ballot," according to Project Vote’s testimony for the Senate Committee on Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections on Monday. "In Missouri, [less than] one‐third of provisional ballots are counted."

Although early or advance voting provisions have been a popular attempt at "compromise" between Republican and Democratic legislators in voter ID debates, opponents say the Missouri provision is not only costly for individual counties, but totally inadequate for the purpose of making voting more accessible. Unlike many early voting provisions in the country, Missouri’s would only be accessible to certain voters during a short period of less than a week with limited voting centers located by jurisdiction, not the number of voters.

Furthermore, Project Vote testified that the muddled provisions do not actually guarantee that advance voting will be implemented and "in fact, it could be vitiated at any time by legislative inaction or a gubernatorial line‐item veto of that budget line.  A citizen (or a Senator) who votes for the amendment, opposing photo ID but thinking that advance voting is worth voting for anyway, could be stuck with photo ID without any advance voting whatsoever."

The measures in question are House Joint Resolution 64and House Bill 1966. If HJR 64 passes, a photo  ID and advance voting initiative would be on the November ballot, and, if passed by the voters, would be implemented according to the provisions in HB 1966. The legislature is projected to adjourn May 10.

"With Missouri's elections being some of the closest in the nation and statewide elections coming within hundreds of votes, we cannot afford to toy with ballot access," the Missourians for Fair Elections stated shortly after the measure passed the House. "Legislative leadership should be ashamed of itself and we will pledge to ensure that eligible Missourians are guaranteed their Constitutional right to vote without unnecessary, burdensome and expensive voter ID requirements."

Tags: election reform, early voting, Missouri, Voting Rights, voter id (all tags)


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