Mo. voter ID undermines democracy

Friday, May 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:21 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Disabled voters, who already have more than their share of barriers, would be further burdened by the Missouri voter ID proposal. While most healthy people take their driver’s license for granted, disabled voters very likely do not have one. That is why the proposed Missouri voter ID requirement would place yet another expense and barrier for people with disabilities who already have natural barriers to voting.

Take my case for example. I am a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down and do not drive and therefore do not have a driver’s license. I have to have someone take me to the polls and assist me while voting. Voting is more difficult for me but I am happy to do it.

Because of my condition I had to have someone drive to my county of birth to retrieve my birth certificate. Fortunately, my dad volunteered to make the 194-mile roundtrip to get my birth certificate for me. There was also a $15 fee. What people do not realize is that I am one of the lucky ones. Most people I know in my condition do not have someone willing to make such a long trip and the income to pay such a fee.

Simply put, changing the state’s constitution to require a voter ID would disenfranchise thousands of Missouri voters. In a 6-1 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled last year that the Missouri voter ID requirement was unconstitutional because it placed an undue burden on disabled and poor voters and therefore violated equal protection and voting rights clauses of the constitution.

To circumvent the Missouri Supreme Court some legislators want to change the constitution by taking it to the voters. At first glance this may seem reasonable, but a deeper look reveals that this proposal fundamentally undermines democracy.

Why is it wrong to require a Missouri ID in order to vote? The integrity of elections is already protected by Missouri voting laws requiring photo IDs that we all use in everyday life such as library cards, student IDs and other similar documentation.

There have been no reported cases of voters misrepresenting their identity while voting. Voters who commit voter fraud are subject to felony charges. The few cases of voter fraud usually involve ineligible voters registering to vote and have nothing to do with voter ID requirements. The proposal has more to do with politics than it has to do with ensuring the integrity of elections.

Similar voter ID restrictions in Georgia and Arizona have been found in violation of voter rights and had been struck down as well. There has been a big push by the Bush administration to crack down on the so-called rampant voter fraud problem.

The scandal involving Alberto Gonzalez and the political firings of some of the eight U.S. attorneys has been partially alleged to be related to the Bush administration pressuring U.S. attorneys to prosecute weak voting fraud cases that some of the attorneys felt were improper to pursue.

While voter ID laws do little to stop actual fraud they are quite effective at suppressing the vote of minorities and the underprivileged. The Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University estimates that voters are 2.7 percent less likely to vote in states requiring such IDs, which in times of razor thin elections are quite significant. Furthermore, voting age minorities are very likely not to have photo IDs. For example, it is estimated that 25 percent of African-Americans who make less than $35,000 a year do not have a photo ID.

The proposal fixes a nonexistent problem while creating many more real problems.

What Missourians don’t realize is that many people will lose the right to vote; the right that is entitled to them as citizens of the United States.

Pund, of Columbia, is a disability rights activist with Disabled Citizens Alliance for Independence.

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