Next November, Missouri voters will consider a ballot measure to amend the state Constitution to require voters to present a photo ID at the polls. Aside from depriving some voters of their most fundamental democratic right, voter ID measures also cost state taxpayers significant amounts money at time when budgets are tight — a fact that Missouri’s GOP state Senate leader seems to be hoping voters won’t realize. Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer (R), who supports the measure, went so far as to consider suing the state’s Republican auditor to get the high pricetag he placed on the measure changed:
State Auditor Tom Schweich’s surprisingly hefty estimate of the annual government cost of Missouri’s proposed photo ID requirement for voters has some Republican legislative leaders now fearing that the proposal could be a tougher sell when it hits ballots in 2012.
A spokeswoman for state Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he even briefly considered filing suit by today’s 5 p.m. deadline in a last-ditch attempt to get the estimate changed.
Schweich estimated the measure would cost state taxpayers $3 million to $6.5 million a year for enforcement, education, and subsidies to voters who do not already have valid photo IDs. Of course, it’s highly unusual for a lawmaker to sue a member of his own party, so the move suggests Mayer is seriously concerned voters will balk at price of the measure on next year’s ballot. But if voting rights activists have their way, it won’t even make it there.
A coalition of voting right groups is now suing Missouri over the ballot measure, hoping to stop it from even getting on the ballot. In a press release announcing the suit today, the Advancement Project, the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), and two local chapters of the ACLU call the measure “unconstitutional” and and “shameful”:
The ballot initiative, SJR2, slated to be placed on the ballot for November 2012, was passed by the legislature in May in an attempt to circumvent the Missouri Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling that restrictive photo ID voting laws are unconstitutional.
“I cannot imagine anything more cynical and shameful than using the voting process itself to trick voters into giving up their rights,” said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney for Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that works to eliminate barriers to voting and has been fighting photo ID laws across the country. “Just as the Missouri Supreme Court rejected Missouri’s photo ID law as a ‘heavy and substantial burden’ on voting rights, the court should reject this deceptive initiative. It does not make clear to voters that they will be giving up a fundamental right.”
The lawsuit, which is the first of its kind in the nation, lists eight voters who could be disenfranchised as plaintiffs, including two elderly women, college students, and a former Parliament Funkadelic band member now stricken with multiple sclerosis.
“There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” former President Clinton said at the Campus Progress conference yesterday.