It is no secret the American electoral system is imperfect. Voting is often inconvenient and needlessly bureaucratic. Its results can be skewed by partisan gerrymandering or butchered by poorly organized polls. There are many ways we can fix the numerous problems in the system in order to ensure a more perfect republic.
However, there has recently been a movement in our country that seems to be a thinly veiled attack on the voting rights of the most vulnerable American voters. This is the large-scale push to enact voter ID laws, which has erupted conflict in many states and has now made significant headway in Jefferson City.
On Thursday, the Missouri House of Representatives passed two bills to require Missouri voters to carry and present valid photo identification at polling places in order to vote. The bills, sponsored by Republicans, will now move to the state Senate. One of them, House Joint Resolution 5, will attempt to amend the state Constitution and therefore will require voter approval. A similar bill was passed by both chambers in 2010 before being vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, but as there is now a veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly, there is little chance Nixon could successfully veto these bills.
Despite Republican state legislators’ insistence to the contrary, these bills serve the same function as Republicans’ voter ID initiatives in Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and other states. They attack the same problem — voter fraud — with the same solution — requiring all voters to bring valid photo identification to the polls.
The problem with the solution is it is tough for some would-be voters to obtain such identification, particularly those with little income and few transportation options. This segment of the population tends to be minorities, women, the elderly and the disabled — disproportionately those who would vote Democratic. Disenfranchisement of those who often support their opponents is certainly not the stated goal and may not be the true intention of Missouri Republican lawmakers, but it has a good chance of being the end result.
Such measures might be appropriate to enact if they would not jeopardize Missourians’ voting rights and if there was truly a large voter-fraud crisis actively ravaging Missouri’s elections. No such crisis has been detected or documented in Missouri. Consequently, this seems to be a large waste of legislative hours and taxpayer dollars, not to mention a potentially huge disenfranchisement of vulnerable Missouri voters.
Getting out the vote in our state seems to be tough enough already. Voter turnout is low and the absentee-ballot system is flawed, to start. If the General Assembly wants to help improve democracy in our state, they could begin by cutting bureaucratic red tape, not by adding more. When HB48 and HJR5 are made law, as it seems now, there will surely be negative attention and costly lawsuits filed against the state.
Voter fraud, in the end, is such a minuscule problem to solve compared to the huge problem the fix would cause. We urge the state Senate to come to its senses and reject these misdirected bills, and urge you to make sure they do so. Millions have fought since the founding of the United States to ensure that every citizen has a vote, and it’s revolting for Missouri lawmakers to try to roll that progress back.