GUEST COLUMN: Requiring voter ID will do more harm than good

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | 9:46 a.m. CDT; updated 11:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I was glad to see the Missourian give attention to the photo ID voting proposal now awaiting vote in the Missouri legislature. Boone County voters would be among those most affected by the HJR 9 measure, and the voting rights of many Mizzou students and Boone County residents hangs in the balance. But a recent op-ed on the topic in the Missourian (“Voter ID necessary for fair elections,” Karl Miller, May 5, 2009) misses the mark.

The proposal is the latest effort by Missouri lawmakers to require voters to produce a specific kind of photo ID at the polls before they can cast a ballot. This needless measure would change our constitution to require voters to provide this ID. This is more restrictive than most of us realize. In contrast to what Mr. Miller suggests in his editorial, the measure wouldn’t allow you to use your college ID, a driver’s license from another state, your voter identification card, or the other forms of ID that are currently allowed at the polls. The fact is that if you don’t have the specific kind of ID outlined in the law, you wouldn’t be allowed cast a regular ballot even if you’re a fully eligible, registered voter. Are you a college student here with an out-of-state ID? A person with a disability who doesn’t drive? Your state of birth can’t find your original birth certificate? Your driver’s license expired? Your records destroyed in Hurricane Katrina? Too bad, even if you are a duly registered voter in Missouri, you would not be entitled to cast a regular ballot. In fact, analysis conducted by the Secretary of State concludes the law could disenfranchise up to 230,000 registered Missouri voters who don’t have the kind of photo ID required – including 6,055 voters in Boone County.  Although getting a photo ID is free, it can be costly, difficult and sometimes even impossible to obtain the documents necessary to secure the ID. That’s why the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006 said such a law was unconstitutional, finding that it posed a "a heavy and substantial burden on Missourians' free exercise of the right of suffrage." Now lawmakers want to circumvent our court by asking voters to change our very constitution.


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To get the ID, you must first present documents such as a birth certificate to prove your identity, citizenship and place of residence. In some instances, you must present a social security card, proof of residence, court documents or marriage and divorce records if names have changed. Studies show that 11 million people nationwide — and 230,000 here in Missouri — lack or can’t get the required ID.

What’s worse, this law is unnecessary. Despite the claims levied in Mr. Miller’s editorial, research has found time and again that there has never been an instance of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri. What’s more — Missouri law already requires voters to show ID at the polls to prove they are who they say they are on election day. And despite the claims in Mr. Miller’s editorial, photo ID is not an inevitable national trend. Our own state Supreme Court concluded that it violates our fundamental right to vote.

If you’ve ever voted in Missouri, you know that it rarely runs without hitches. And while elections ran more smoothly in 2008 than in the past, many jurisdictions still were overwhelmed and unprepared to meet the large voter turnout. In fact, with thousands of St. Louis County voters standing in line up to seven hours to cast a ballot, news outlets characterized the experience as the “longest wait in America.”   

Yet, rather than pursuing reforms like effective early voting in Missouri — as they have in 32 other states — to reduce administrative burdens and make it easier for voters to cast their ballots on Election Day, Missouri lawmakers instead have focused on this overly restrictive photo ID proposal that doesn’t make sense and isn’t justified.

To add insult to injury — perhaps in an effort to appease the nearly 6,000 Missouri voters who have already called Jefferson City to oppose the measure — the bill’s sponsors tacked on a litany of amendments that don’t help voters. To make matters even worse, the proposal overrides pages of laws protecting disabled and military voters, including Mr. Miller himself! Voters should know that the rights of 10,000 overseas military voters and 15,000 disabled voters are at risk because the measure eliminates the state’s permanent absentee service and eliminates the ability for county clerks and boards to get over 10,000 Missourians in uniform ballots via email and fax. The fact is, no Missourian should lose his or her right to vote because a government bureaucracy is unable to provide her with a copy of her birth certificate. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Miller that we should dispense with the partisan politics in Jefferson City — but in my book, disenfranchising voters isn’t partisan politicking – this is about protecting our citizens’ most fundamental of rights.

Have lawmakers given thought to the many “real life” Missourians who would not be able to vote because they were unable to obtain the needed documents required by the photo ID law? Voters who would be disenfranchised include Boone County’s Kathleen Weinschenk, who has cerebral palsy and because of her disability is unable to make a consistent signature or mark — her signature would not match the signature on her voter registration record required by the Missouri law. Maudie Mae Hughes and Lillie Lewis of St. Louis are elderly women born in Mississippi who can’t get a Missouri photo ID required by the law because they cannot get a copy of their birth certificates from the State of Mississippi, which says it has no record of their births. Because they cannot get a copy of their birth certificates, they wouldn’t be able to obtain the necessary Missouri ID required under the law. Amanda Mullaney was born in Kentucky to unwed parents and her name does not match the name on her birth certificate. The late Judge Charles Blackmar, one of the judges sitting on the Missouri Supreme Court for the 2006 photo ID challenge, learned that he would not be able to cast a regular ballot because, at 84 years old, he no longer drove a car and had allowed his driver’s license to expire.

Missouri lawmakers can do better. With just two weeks remaining in the legislative session in the midst of a massive budget crisis, don’t they have more important matters to address than taking up a proposal costing nearly $6 million in taxpayer dollars to change our constitution to disenfranchise thousands of voters — especially the most disadvantaged among us? We cannot allow these tactics to relegate eligible Missouri voters to second-class citizenship. The rights of all citizens should be protected, not just those with state IDs.

Denise Lieberman is the Missouri senior attorney and voter protection advocate for Advancement Project who headed Election Day monitoring operations in St. Louis in 2004, 2006 and 2008. She serves as a spokesperson for Missourians for Fair Elections, a non-partisan coalition opposing HJR 9, She teaches political science at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Greg Collins May 7, 2009 | 8:20 a.m.

According to the left, voter ID is an evil GOP idea instituted for the express purpose of preventing Democrats from winning elections by suppressing the votes of minorities.

Numerous academic studies show that voter ID had no effect on the turnout of voters in prior elections. The plaintiffs in every unsuccessful lawsuit filed against such state requirements could not produce a single individual who didn't either already have an ID or couldn't easily get one.

Bottom line - if you are a functioning adult in this society, you already have ID - likely government photo ID - of some form. Using it at the polls is no burden. Only the fictional, dead, redundant and fraud voters are going to be adversely impacted by a photo ID requirement.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote May 7, 2009 | 4:46 p.m.

Mr. Collins,

I am interested in reading one of the "Numerous academic studies show that voter ID had no effect on the turnout of voters in prior elections." Could you provide a link to one such study that appears in a peer-reviewed journal.


(Report Comment)

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