Voting

Voters check in at a polling location for the March 2016 Presidential Preference Primary. For the November 6 midterm general election, voters need to warned against various myths and misinformation. If you moved and did not re-register to vote, check to see if you are registered; you will be if you moved within the same county. You do not need to have the correct address on your driver’s license to vote. And you do not need a photo ID to vote.

Grant Doty, a civil rights attorney in St. Louis, offers a guest Political EYE this week.

Perversely, an important court victory protecting citizens’ right to vote and the resulting media coverage may actually have muddled things for voters. Some may now wrongly think if they recently moved and did not re-register to vote that they are not eligible to exercise their rights on Election Day. It is important to dispel this and two other myths before November 6.

Last month, a federal judge ruled the Missouri secretary of state and Department of Revenue likely violated federal voting law when in 2017 they stopped providing those who updated their mailing address online with the required voter registration services, specifically allowing it to also serve as notification of change of address for voter registration. As a remedy, the judge ordered the state to mail 22,000 notices to those who might have been impacted, instructing them how to ensure they are properly registered.

Both the court’s ruling and the mass mailing were picked up by a significant number of media outlets. Unfortunately, the necessary summarizing of the court’s 13-page order resulted in one concluding hyperbolically: “Missourians who changed their mailing address may not be registered to vote.” Combine this with the new Missouri voter photo identification law, and there are three voting myths that must be debunked.

Voting Myth 1. If I moved and did not update my voter registration, I am no longer registered to vote.

Fact. The majority of people who move remain registered to vote in Missouri.

Although the U.S. Census Bureau reports that one in nine people change addresses each year (which comes to an estimated 1.3 million Missourians since the 2016 election), most do so close to home – 62 percent of moves are in the same county.

It is therefore significant that Missouri law states if you move within the same county (or within the City of St. Louis) you remain registered and need only provide “written or oral affirmation by the voter of the new address” on Election Day “at the polling place that serves [your] new address.”

So if, for example, you were registered to vote at a home in one ward and recently moved to a nursing home in another ward, or you moved from an apartment or college dorm near Saint Louis University to Soulard, you remain registered and can vote at the polling place serving your new address. And you must be permitted to vote after giving “written or oral affirmation” that you moved – i.e., they cannot require documentary proof.

If, on the other hand, you moved from St. Louis city to St. Louis County, from one voting jurisdiction to another, your voter registration will not follow you. You must re-register. If you did not do so before the voter registration deadline on October 10, you will not be eligible to vote in November (although you will be registered for future elections).

Voting Myth 2. If I have the wrong address on my driver’s license, this will prevent me from voting given Missouri’s new photo identification law.

Fact. A current address on your photo identification is not required to vote. The law does not even mention the voter’s address for any form of primary identification (e.g., driver’s license, non-driver license, military identification, passport, etc.). In fact, neither passports nor military IDs even list addresses.

Note, however, if you do not have a photo identification (see Voting Myth 3), poll workers will require something with your address, such as a bank statement or utility bill.

Voting Myth 3. If I don’t have photo identification, lose it just before Election Day, or leave it at home, this will prevent me from voting.

Fact. It is estimated that 5 percent of registered voters in Missouri lack the prescribed non-expired Missouri or federal photo identification. But as long as those voters present a secondary form of identification – such as a college ID, the voter notification card they got in the mail, or a current utility bill, bank statement or other government document – they can still vote.

Do not be dissuaded from going to the polls because of any of these myths. And if you get to your local precinct and are told you can’t vote, push back hard. You have a right to vote.

Finally, before giving up, please call the non-partisan Election Protection Hotline at 866-OURVOTE (866-687-8683) to speak to attorneys who can answer any questions about your eligibility and assist you in defending your right to vote. The hotline is answered live now through Election Day.

Election Protection volunteers will also be at polls throughout the region on Election Day and available to help.

New zoo sales tax – fair to none

Ben Uchitelle, former Clayton mayor and former chair of the Metropolitan Zoo Museum District, also offers a guest Political EYE item this week.   

The St. Louis Zoo is a regional and national treasure.  Consistently voted one of the best in the nation, it annually attracts upwards of 3 million visitors.

Where does the zoo obtain its basic funding? Since 1972 an annual property tax levied against residents of St. Louis and St. Louis County. That generates $21 million a year and is essential to its operations. Of the $21M, a whopping 80 percent is footed by St. Louis County residents and properties. All revenues are carefully supervised by the independent Zoo Museum District (the ZMD). 

Yet now the zoo has put on the St. Louis County November 6 ballot Proposition Z, a one-eighth percent sales tax that would be in addition to its existing property tax. This is unfair in the extreme for many reasons.

The proposed sales tax would be imposed only in St. Louis County, not St. Louis, not St. Charles, not other ring counties. This on top of the 80 percent of the property taxes St. Louis County already is paying. Now the zoo wants the county to pay all of the sales tax!

The sales tax is highly regressive. It would apply to every taxable sale in St. Louis County including food and other necessities. It would cause overall sales taxes to come close or in many places exceed 10 percent.

There would be no supervision of the sales tax funds by the independent ZMD. All moneys would go directly to the zoo, and it would have the sole discretion on how it spends the funds. 

There is no sunset provision. So, if approved, the tax would go on forever without any outside supervision.

Granted, the zoo needs more funds. A far fairer way to raise more money would be a small admission fee charged to non-city or non-county visitors. This is particularly equable since annually more than 55 percent of zoo visitors are neither city nor county residents! The fee would raise millions of dollars annually from the more than 1.5 million non-city and non-county zoo visitors. The Missouri Botanical Garden does that right now.

Would non-city and non-county visitors support an admission charge? The answer is yes, as demonstrated in a recent survey which showed a high majority of the residents of St. Charles County who visited the Zoo would support an admission charge. 

Rather than approve a tax that is unfair in all respects, we should support the zoo in seeking approval of an admission fee for non-city and non-county visitors.

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