September 26, 2016

Politickin’ me off: Photo ID requirements at polls hinder voting

Jessica Karins

Jessica Karins

Missouri’s Republican lawmakers have been intently pursuing a solution to a problem that politicians have always found inconvenient – the popular vote.

On Sept. 14, the state House and Senate voted to overrule Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls, among other legislation. Voter ID bills have been trendy among state Republicans, but also heavily controversial. Many believe their purpose is to decrease voter participation and allow for an easier victory for Republicans.

Missouri’s Secretary of State found in 2014 that the ID requirement would prevent about 220,000 of the state’s citizens from voting legitimately (citizens who don’t have any form of photo ID to show).

Missouri’s own bill comes in a year of several hotly contested elections, including a narrow gap between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton in a usually-red state.

What’s more, the bill is expected to cost the state $17 million. If Missouri doesn’t have the money, the bill just won’t be enforced. That’s something a criminal looking to commit voter fraud would know, but an ordinary Missourian discouraged by the harsh new law might not.

As the Washington Post recently reported, many Republican elected officials pushing for voter ID laws, including Pennsylvania’s GOP chairman and a Wisconsin state representative have admitted that the laws tend to have consequences besides preventing fraud – they help Republicans win.

Several courts in states that have already implemented voter ID laws have ruled that they are unconstitutional – at least according to state constitutions. In both North Carolina and Wisconsin, judges have said that the laws target African-American voters and address voter fraud that largely doesn’t occur.

To get around that problem, Missouri legislators have considered simply amending the constitution – the only state to propose doing so in order to make it harder to vote.

These voter ID laws are clearly designed to prevent broad segments of the population from voting. They respond to imaginary problems with repressive regulations that don’t prevent real incidents of voter fraud.

It’s not that election irregularities don’t occur in Missouri. In a primary election for state representative, Democrat Penny Hubbard swamped her opponent Bruce Franks Jr. with an enormous number of suspected fraudulent absentee ballots. When the court ordered a recount, Hubbard lost by a landslide.

Fraud committed through absentee voting, though, has nothing to do with voter ID laws. Missouri’s lawmakers have chosen to address the problem with a solution which will have no impact.

In fact, Franks, a black progressive involved in activism in Ferguson, represents the exact kind of constituent voter ID laws seek to disenfranchise.

The system is aligned against Democrats and black voters. Missouri Republicans have agreed they have a lesser right to vote, and when voter fraud attempts to keep them out of power, it can be easily ignored.

Fortunately, voters will still have a chance to weigh in on this bill. The measure will be subject to a public referendum in November.

Hopefully, Missourians will chose not to make voting more difficult and send Republicans in Jefferson City the message that they should focus on solving real problems – not preserving their own power.

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