Missouri lawmakers this week are working to rush legislation that would prevent up to 240,000 Missourians from voting. The proposed legislation would make Missouri one of the toughest states in the country for eligible citizens who want to vote by requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls. If passed, these changes could be in place by the November general election.
Joint Resolution 48 passed the Missouri House yesterday on a party-line 88-69 vote and now awaits action in the Senate. If passed, it would place a referendum before the voters in August which, if approved, would go into effect for the November 2008 election.
This resolution is superfluous for Missouri, where proponents have yet to show a single case of voter impersonation from recent elections, yet imposes high burdens on eligible voters to comply, as noted by Denise Lieberman, a lawyer and voter protection advocate with Advancement Project in Missouri.
"Missouri already has a voter identification law that ensures that eligible voters are who they say they are on Election Day. Even if photo IDs are provided free of cost, obtaining the underlying documents needed to prove your identity costs money and can be difficult or impossible to obtain. No Missourian should be deprived of the right to vote because government bureaucracy will not provide them a copy of their birth certificate."
Lillie Lewis, St. Louis resident, knows that frustration.
"I have tried everything to get a copy of my birth certificate," says Lewis, "but Mississippi says they have no record of my birth."
Although she believes she was born in 1935, the social security administration says her year of birth was 1936. Because she is not able to obtain a birth certificate and because of the confusion surrounding her birth, Mrs. Lewis may not be able to vote under the proposed voter photo ID law.
Statistics on Proof of Citizenship
A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 52 percent of married women don’t have a birth certificate in their current name, and 17 percent of citizens age 65 and over don’t have access to citizenship documents. That translates into 600,000 Missouri women and 17,000 Missouri seniors.
Further, a February Rock the Vote survey also showed that 19 percent of citizens age 18-29 do not have their current address on their ID. Establishing these rigid documentation requirements could keep hundreds of thousands of Missourians from casting a vote at the polls this November.
A Taste of What’s To Come?
At Tuesday’s Indiana primary twelve nuns were turned away from the polls because they lacked the needed government-issued photo IDs to vote. When Sister Sandy Schwartz of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in St. Louis heard the story, she did an informal survey of 35 nuns in her convent. Fifteen did not have state-issued photo IDs.
"This may sound like a good idea at first," stated Sister Schwartz, "but once you stop to think about who would really be affected, this is going to keep a lot of our loved ones from being able to vote."
Sister Schwartz and others are concerned that strict documentary identification requirements would create hardships for Missouri nuns and other senior citizens.
Missourians for Fair Elections, a coalition of voting rights groups that includes the League of Women Voters, AARP and others, convened in St. Louis yesterday to encourage the Missouri State Senate to vote the legislation down. Supporters included Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and citizens who would not meet the law’s strict documentation requirements.
If you would like to know what you can do about this issue, contact Laura Egerdal, Missourians for Fair Elections at 314-363-5571.