A day before Missouri’s new voter ID law takes effect, a coalition of civil rights groups and Democratic politicians warned Wednesday that the law could disenfranchise minority voters and older people.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, whose office oversees elections, scoffed at the concerns, arguing that “if you’re a registered voter, you’ll be able to vote.”
Missouri residents voted in November to allow legislators to institute the voter identification requirements, and the Republican-controlled legislature did just that.
With the law’s implementation Thursday, Missouri joins 33 states, many with Republican legislatures and governors, with a form of voter ID laws touted as an effort to prevent voter fraud.
With the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis as the backdrop, Denise Lieberman, the senior attorney for the Advancement Project’s voter protection program, decried the law, saying it will disproportionately affect minorities, older people and people with disabilities.
“Even if this works perfectly well as planned, even if this works under the best-case scenario, what you will have are two-tiered voting. You will have some people who can go to the polls, show an ID and cast a ballot, no problem, and other people who are relegated to a second and inferior voting process, where they have to present additional documentation, they have to sign a statement under penalty of perjury, they are subject to additional scrutiny,” she said. “That is a separate and unequal system.
But Ashcroft, a Republican pushed back, pointing out that already-registered voters have one of three ways to cast a ballot:
- Show a valid, government-issued, photo ID, such as a driver's license or a free photo ID;
- Sign a sworn statement of one’s identity and provide one of eight approved documents, such as a utility bill or bank statement;
- Cast a provisional ballot that will be verified by a matching signature on the voter registry or coming back that day with a valid photo ID.
“It is a photo ID bill because it creates an instance where you use a government-issued photo ID to vote, and that is the preferred method to vote, is the way I would put it,” Ashcroft said. “It gives us confidence that you are who you say you are and we think it’s important to protect the ballot box against potential fraud.”
Not all of the voter ID laws in the United States are created equal. Texas’ 2011 law, which was widely viewed as one of the strictest in the nation, was struck down in April by a federal judge who ruled it was intended to discriminate against minorities; Gov. Greg Abbott signed a revised law Thursday. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of North Carolina’s voter ID, which a federal appeals court struck down as unconstitutional.
About 300,000 voters in Wisconsin did not have the proper IDs in the November election, according to an Associated Press report, which Lieberman cited Wednesday. However, it wasn’t clear how many people in Wisconsin did not vote.
Ashcroft also rejected claims that 220,000 people in Missouri will be affected by the law. He said that figure, used by Democratic Rep. Stacey Newman of University City, was based on a count that didn’t take into account cleaned-up voter rolls or other types of acceptable IDs.
He estimated that it’s more likely between 100,000 and 130,000 people would lack the proper documents to vote, but he didn’t have an exact number, saying the statement people have to sign if they show up with an approved document but not a photo ID will help determining a better figure.
Newman, who serves on the House Elections Committee, said one of the main issues is the vital records needed to obtain a photo ID — such as a certified birth certificate, marriage license, adoption papers or an amended birth certificate. Ashcroft’s office says it will help people obtain those documents for free. Newman argued that it’s not always that easy.
“We’ve got a [transgender] community that it’s not easy for them to get their birth certificates altered, and again, if your documents don’t even exist, it doesn’t matter how much money there is, or if the state promising to pay for it,” she said.
The secretary of state’s office said it has $1.6 million allocated in the budget that starts July 1 to spend on publicity of the law, for helping people obtain those in-state and out-of-state vital records and to pay for the free IDs. Already, the office has spent some federal money to educate local election authorities and provide fliers and posters, Ashcroft said. (His office hadn’t yet provided a specific figure at the time this story was published.)
But Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis said that the law is underfunded by $3.5 million, something Democratic Rep. Joe Adams of University City, who is a member of the House Elections Committee, also addressed.
“They sneak all kinds of things in there … They kept saying on the floor and in committee that it was not going to go into effect unless they fully fund it,” Adams said. “Well, they haven’t fully funded it and they plan to making it go into effect tomorrow, so we’ll see.”
But Ashcroft said those were based on the prior administration’s numbers, which sought funding for more than two years, not one year.
This is Missouri’s second attempt at having voters show an ID at the polls; the first was struck down as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2006.
The state has a website that explains the law and outlines the necessary documents.
Follow Erica on Twitter: @ehunzinger