New voter photo ID law is unclear and unfunded, advocates claim

At a May 31 press conference, state Senator Jamilah Nasheed said that Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft “has been unable to provide clear answers to the people that are having to vote without an ID. What we do know is that this mass policy change does not have the resources to be implemented in the first place.”

Photo by Wiley Price

According to a new law, effective June 1 Missouri voters must have state-issued photo ID in order to vote. In the November 8 election, voters passed Constitutional Amendment 6, which authorizes photo ID requirements at the polls.

In a May 31 press conference organized by the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, a group of over 30 nonprofits and public servants, questions were raised both about whether this law is ethical and about how it will be implemented.

The rule will be effective in the elections this upcoming July and August, which will include a St. Louis City aldermanic election on July 11, and special elections for one Missouri House and one Missouri Senate seat on August 8.

Though the law requires every voter to have a state-issued photo ID, it also requires the state to pay for photo ID for those without one. At the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition press conference, however, several public figures and activist groups suggested that with the lack of public education and lack of funding, this measure will keep registered voters away from the polls.

In 2006, the Missouri legislature attempted to pass a similar photo ID bill, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court because of its restriction of the voting rights of the over 200,000 Missourians without government photo ID – those people being disproportionately African-American, female, poor, seniors or disabled. Now, in 2016, this measure seems on track to move unobstructed into law.

“It took 10 years, but the Missouri legislature has designed another poll tax,” said Nancy Miller, president of the Missouri League of Women Voters, at the press conference. She compared this law to the “poll taxes” that were used as a device to restrict the voting rights of African Americans.

“Whereas free IDs are promised for all 220,000 voters who lack one, procedures and assistance for obtaining them are yet to be seen,” Miller said. “Even though there has not been one case of voter impersonation fraud, the rules which resulted in fair, honest elections are no more.”

Those free IDs, along with the advertisement required to make voters aware of the changes, is to be paid for by the state, which according to state Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis), is “unfunded by a tune of $3.5 million.” She expressed frustration at the lack of clarity in the measure. Along with the rest of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, she requested that Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft clarify the new voting procedures – and how they are to be financed.

“Someone asked me, how will it work? How will voter ID work? Who will be in charge? Where do people go and have their questions answered?” Nasheed said. “The answer is, we don’t know. Unfortunately, Secretary Ashcroft has been unable to provide clear answers to the people that are having to vote without an ID. What we do know is that this mass policy change does not have the resources to be implemented in the first place.”

St. Louis Tishaura O. Jones also spoke out against the law. “We have no clear rules or guidance as to what will happen on the next election day,” she said. “This is unacceptable, and I have a message for our secretary of state’s office: This is not a dress rehearsal. These are people’s real lives and constitutional rights that you’re playing with. I’m saying that because, if you’re in a marginalized group, and I’m looking for info on how to cast my vote in the next election, I can’t find it. Can you?”

Denise Lieberman, coordinator of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, said that the organization’s primary request was that Ashcroft “take further steps to ensure that no valid voter is denied their right to cast a ballot, and issue definitive guidance that will help local authorities train poll workers, and embark on a robust public education effort.”

The ID law, Lieberman said, is not only costly, but also “a descendant of Dred Scott and our nation’s legacy of exclusion.”

Coalition members expressed frustration over how costly and “unnecessary” the measure is. “We don’t have voter impersonation in Missouri, but that’s the problem they’re trying to fix,” said state Representative Stacey Newman (D-Richmond Heights). Jones agreed: “Here in Missouri we have 99 problems,” she said, “And voter ID ain’t one.”

In a release, Ashcroft responded by saying he will announce a statewide public education campaign on June 1, as the law takes effect.

“Missouri's voter ID law will not disenfranchise a single voter,” Ashcroft stated. “Bottom line, if you're registered to vote, you can vote – despite the misinformation that was shared today."

In a release, Ashcroft responded by saying he will announce a statewide public education campaign on June 1, as the law takes effect.

“Missouri's voter ID law will not disenfranchise a single voter,” Ashcroft stated. “Bottom line, if you're registered to vote, you can vote – despite the misinformation that was shared today."

Sophie Hurwitz is a St. Louis American editorial intern who is graduating from John Burroughs School.

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