WHAT OTHERS SAY: Republicans target military voters

Thursday, April 12, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

In his 1988 speech to the Republican National Convention, President Ronald Reagan borrowed a phrase from John Adams, the nation's second president, when he said, more than once: "Facts are stubborn things."

Republicans in the Missouri legislature who consider Mr. Reagan their patron saint would do well to apply that concept to their misguided attempts to make it harder for Missourians to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

No one in the legislature is more committed to trampling on this right than Rep. Shane Schoeller, the third-term Republican from Willard who is running for secretary of state.

Mr. Schoeller not only wants to ask voters to weaken the state constitution and then disenfranchise any state voters who lack a specific form of government-issued photo identification — now he also wants to take away the right of absentee voters — including members of the armed services — to mail in their ballots.

House Bill 2109 is horrendous for a variety of reasons. Examining its origins, its sloppy construction and its potentially devastating results shed light on how far modern conservative ideals have drifted from what Mr. Reagan had espoused for the Republican Party.

Mr. Schoeller's bill is borrowed from one passed in Kansas written by that state's secretary of state, Kris Kobach, a noted anti-immigrant crusader whose ideas helped spawn Arizona's and Alabama's divisive and unconstitutional anti-immigrant laws.

So much for Mr. Reagan's shining city on a hill.

Mr. Schoeller's bill would require potential voters to prove their citizenship. On its surface, that doesn't seem unreasonable. But the devil is in the details.

The bill, for instance, gives local election boards the right to determine if your birth certificate is adequate. (Note to Hawaiians: Cancel that move to Missouri.) Similarly, if you have a driver's license from a state that your local election authority doesn't thinks protects citizenship enough, you might not be able to register to vote.

The worst provision in Mr. Schoeller's bill would take away the long-held right of Missourians who request absentee ballots to vote by mail. These folks already are registered to vote. Some of them are disabled and can't get to the polls. Others are members of the military, stationed far from home, perhaps even overseas protecting the very right to vote that Mr. Schoeller seeks to diminish.

Why in the name of stubborn facts would Mr. Schoeller offer such a proposal? He told us some of his constituents are concerned about potential voter fraud.

"I don't have an example of this actually happening," he said.

Of course he doesn't. On the other hand, a lot of people do mail in their absentee ballots — 270,000 of them in 2008, the last presidential election. More than 11,000 of those came from military personnel.

Yes, facts are stubborn things. Here's another one: A 2005 study of the voting system in Oregon, the one state in the nation with an entirely vote-by-mail system, found it to be "more accurate" and protected from fraud than most state voting systems. The study was co-chaired by James A. Baker III, who served as chief of staff and Treasury secretary under (wait for it) Reagan.

Mr. Schoeller insists his intent is not to diminish voting rights. But the undeniable and stubborn fact is that every voter-related bill he's offered does precisely that.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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