We got our new voter registration cards a few weeks ago. The next time there’s an election, we’ll go to our new polling place, show the clerks our registration cards, get a ballot, and play one of our roles in the system of government.
The annual effort to require us to do more than that to exercise our right to vote is about to begin at the Capitol where the majority party seems to think that it’s not enough to be a registered voter and to show a registration card to the clerks on election day. They seem to think nobody should be allowed to vote unless they also can show a government-issued identification card that has the voter’s picture on it.
The minority party says the additional requirement would adversely impact on many elderly, poor, and minority voters. The minority party says those people are more important to it than they are to the majority party Although they don’t come right out and say it, they see the voter photo-ID legislation as another effort to undermine the political base that Democrats see as helpful (the other major effort to do that is right-to-work legislation that could curtail union membership and, therefore, funding for labor which generally supports Democrats).
[As an aside, we should note the contradictory attitude of the majority party. The Republican-led legislature in 2009 passed legislation prohibiting Missouri participation in the Homeland Security Department’s “Real ID” program. 2005. Governor Nixon signed the bill. The state has now been notified that Missourians who want to visit federal facilities can no longer use their Missouri driver’s license to identify themselves. The policy also could mean Missourians won’t be able to use their driver’s licenses to get on an airliner. They’ll have to have some additional kind of U. S. Government photo identification such as a passport. It’s okay, therefore, for the legislature to tell Missourians they can’t vote unless they have state-issued photo ID, but it’s not okay for the federal government to tell Missourians they can’t visit federal facilities without a federally-issued photo ID.]
Back to the topic:
Republicans use phrase such as “ballot security,” or “voter fraud” to justify their positions on voter photo-ID. Democrats use phrases such as “voter suppression.”
There’s a certain irony in the Republican push to require a driver’s license or some other state-issued picture document if we want to exercise one of our most fundamental rights as United States citizens.
Republicans occupy two-thirds of the seats in the House and in the Senate through a system they have been implying is rife with voter fraud and crippled by ballot insecurity. If, however, you were to go to your state senator or your state representative (chances are that if you live outstate, that person is a member of the GOP) and ask how many fraudulent votes were cast for them in their most recent election, they’ll be unable to tell you if any fraudulent votes were cast in their districts. Or the election before that. Or before that. Or in the decade before that. Or the two decades before that. What could validate the majority party’s position would be notarized statements from each county clerk listing the number of fraudulent votes cast in those counties in the last, oh, twenty years, including the number of people charged by the county prosecutor with fraudulent voting. Of course, such documents would undermine their case, too.
If the legislators won’t ask their county clerks for that information, perhaps the Missouri Association of County Clerks could assemble it for them and present the findings to the public. Which side is on the side of the angels on this issue? This is one of those issues where the word “transparency” is something to think about. But the operative word so far is “agenda.”
It’s been a few years (like, maybe, seventy-five or eighty) since the Pendergast political machine had thousands of ghosts voting in Kansas City. Walter Cronkite, the great CBS newsman, recalls in his early days in broadcasting in Kansas City when the manager of his station sent him out to vote several times under several different names.
We had hoped in the years we sat at the Senate press table that the supporters of voter photo-ID would produce a list of people who had been charged in, say, the last ten years, with pretending to be someone else when they cast a ballot, or tried to cast a ballot, in state or local elections. Just how big a problem is this? How dangerous is this issue to the state and national civic health? How many results at the state and local levels have been affected by voter fraud. Just how insecure ARE our ballots?
The sponsor of the photo-ID bill told the Associated Press the election for Kinloch mayor last April justifies his bill. Only 58 votes were cast. The city attorney says 27 of those voters were illegally registered. The sponsor of the bill is a smart-enough guy that he flew helicopters while he was in military service (we heard him go on at painful length about helicopters during a filibuster early one morning) and as such, he surely knows the problem with shooting at the wrong target. In Kinloch, the problem was with people proving their identity at REGISTRATION. And the responsibility for that issue is with the registering clerk. If the workers at the polling place cannot trust the clerk’s certification, why even have registration?
Ask yourself as you stand in line to get a ballot whether you would rather have to wait a few minutes in a much shorter line at the clerk’s office while someone proves their identity to get a registration card or whether you would rather stand in a longer line at the polling place while an elderly polling clerk who has been on the job since 5 a.m. waits for a voter to search through pockets or purse for something other than or in addition to their voter registration card.
Under the bill, a voter who cannot produce photo-ID at the polling place can cast a provisional ballot that will only be counted if later checking verifies the person’s identity, a seemingly cumbersome process that becomes unnecessary if the registration clerk, city or county, already has certified the person with the registration card is who they say they are.
Proponents argue that we have to use photo-ID whenever we check into a motel or cash checks or use a credit card to make a large purchase or get stopped for speeding, so why shouldn’t be have to use one to vote? Opponents will argue that checking into a motel, cashing a check, or using a credit card to make a large purchase are not rights of citizenship but are only privileges.
One side argues that the policy protects citizenship. The other side argues it’s a barrier to many people to enjoy citizenship. What, a cynic might ask, is a greater threat to the republic: so-called ballot insecurity, allowing Syrian refugees to come to Missouri, or letting a woman, her doctor and her own understanding of the scriptures make medical decisions?
What it comes down to is simple. The R’s and the D’s at the Capitol are playing for political advantage and the card-carrying citizens, are caught in the middle. But that’s the penalty we pay for a free country. About 4.2 million registered Missouri voters are at the mercy each year of 100 of the 197 people we have elected to represent us–82 in the House, 18 in the Senate, the number needed to pass bills. And sometimes agendas trump the broader public welfare.
You’d think from the photo voter-ID annual battles that the only ones who are not frauds are the 197—who are not fettered by any statutory ethical standards.