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Missouri to vote on stripping voting rights protections out of the state constitution

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

When Missourians go to the polls this fall to elect a president and a senator, they will also decide whether voters will have to have a government ID in order to participate in future elections. The policy, if it passes, could disenfranchise 220,000 people in the key swing state.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the voter ID bill. Currently, the bill violates the voting rights provisions of the state’s constitution. But if voters approve Amendment 6 on this November’s ballot, those protections will be stripped out, and the voter ID law can go into effect.

Voting rights advocates in the state, including Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould with Missouri Faith Voices, reacted to the veto override news by blasting the state’s Republicans for “creating a flawed, expensive, and confusing hurdle for hundreds of thousands of eligible Missouri voters.”

“This would not fix an actual problem; it would simply reduce the number of people who can vote in the election,” she said.

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The Missouri Secretary of State’s office estimated in 2014 that about 220,000 registered voters lack the proper ID and could be disenfranchised by a voter ID law. Many more who are not registered could be impacted as well.

The most impacted groups, voting rights lawyers explained, would be seniors, people with disabilities, students, women, veterans and people of color, who are less likely to possess the proper documents.

If approved, the Missouri voter ID law would be much less strict than versions passed in Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina that courts have blocked for unconstitutionally suppressing voters of color. For instance, the Missouri would be required to provide free photo IDs and any underlying documents necessary to obtain them, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards.

But Laura Swinford with the organization Progress Missouri says even with these work-arounds, the law still presents “ridiculous barriers” for lower-income voters.

“It’s very easy for proponents of the law to say that the state will cover your ID costs, but what if you can’t drive anymore? What if you’re elderly? What if you have multiple jobs? How will you get to the DMV office?” she asked. “Public transit has been cut in a lot of communities, and many people can’t afford to take time off work.”

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The law would also allow voters who are unable to get the required ID to still be able to cast a ballot as long as they sign a legally-binding affidavit and let a poll worker take their picture. But Swinford sees potential problems here as well.

“What if someone lost their drivers’ license just before the election, and signed an affidavit saying they didn’t have one. Technically, they have perjured themselves if you they find it later or get a new one. People who are trying to do the right thing can still face a situation where their vote is called into question because of perjury, and that’s just ridiculous.”