Already passed by the Missouri House and may be taken up by the Senate are two bills addressing what proponents call voter fraud but opponents regard as voter suppression. The issue is requiring a government issued photo ID in order to vote.
Everyone agrees that voters should identify themselves to vote. Missouri law already requires it, and voters have effectively been doing so for years using a number of acceptable and effective IDs such as a voter registration card, a student ID, a driver's license or an expired driver's license, or a utility bill to name a few.
There have been several attempts to require a government-issued photo ID in Missouri, but the Missouri Supreme Court declared such an ID unconstitutional because it places a heavy and substantial burden on Missourians' free exercise of the right of suffrage and violates the Missouri constitution's right to vote and right to equal protection under law.
When people talk about voter fraud, we all listen because it is something we all want to avoid. We want integrity in our elections. In fact, there are already clear laws with severe consequences for voting fraud in the books, as well there should be. Under federal law, voting fraud is punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
An accepted and indisputable fact is that laws requiring a government-issued photo ID can only prevent in-person voter impersonation, that is, when someone shows up at a particular precinct claiming to be someone else also registered in that same precinct. Studies have shown over and over that this type of fraud is rare to non-existent. No cases of voter impersonation fraud have ever been documented in Missouri. Who would risk five years in prison or a $10,000 fine to vote fraudulently, to add one extra vote for a candidate? It makes no sense.
And by the way, photo ID does not address voter registration or absentee voting irregularities.
We already have effective laws against voter fraud, and voter impersonation fraud does not exist. Yet, legislators in Jefferson City are again taking time to pass legislation that would require our Constitution to be amended by the vote of the people, and then passing a law that would limit the forms of identification acceptable at the polls. These forms of ID would be limited to only current Missouri or federal photo IDs with expiration dates, most typically a current Missouri driver's license or nondriver's license.
Because proponents want to avoid the accusation that they are setting up a poll tax type of barrier to voting, the state would provide an ID without cost to those needing one but would not cover the costs of acquiring and presenting underlying documents required to get that ID. And in a case of Catch 22, in order to apply for a Missouri Birth Certificate, you have to fill out a form that must be notarized. A notary generally requires a photo ID to prove who you are. In addition, notaries are usually only available during normal working hours, and the working poor who may work two jobs or shifts, do not have the flexibility to get documents notarized. This is also a hindrance to disabled citizens and seniors who no longer drive just to get to a bank or other location to find a notary.
Some 250,000 Missouri voters lack a government-issued photo ID. African-Americans, seniors, people with disabilities, the working poor and students are twice as likely to be among this group. Many would be disenfranchised. Let's look at the issue of underlying documents. Without a certified Birth Certificate or a Passport, or naturalization papers, or perhaps a marriage certificate or a divorce certificate, you cannot get a driver's license. These documents may be difficult to come by, often quite expensive and possibly unavailable — think of a Joplin tornado victim as one obvious example. Women face additional burdens because of name changes if they were married, divorced or even remarried in this or other states or whenever their present name does not match the name on their birth certificate.
Since no case of voter impersonation fraud has ever been documented in Missouri, since our state is in the midst of major budget problems, and since it would cost more than $7 million to enact these laws, it seems wasteful for our legislators to spend time and money on this issue. So what we have here is a case of solving a problem that does not exist on the one hand and setting up barriers to voting on the other.
As representatives of the League of Women Voters whose predecessors fought for more than 70 years for women to get the right to vote, we believe that access to the ballot for all is critical to participation in our democracy.
Therefore, we urge you to write to your state senator (in this area, Sen. Kurt Schaefer) and tell him you are happy with our Constitution and our voter identification requirements as they are, that there is no voter impersonation fraud and that this is the United States of America where we try to minimize barriers to voting and instead encourage everyone to participate and to vote, and tell them to please let people vote.
Marilyn McLeod and Carol Schreiber are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters, and Aline Kultgen is chair of the Civil Liberties Committee of the League of Women Voters.