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Missouri and the Election Crisis 

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Critics of photo-ID requirements point out that those least likely to possess a driver's license or a government-issued, non-driver ID are low-income people who do not own cars and who already face other barriers to voting, such as shifting home addresses and work schedules that don't accommodate running around during business hours to gather documents or vote in person. Currently, Missouri voters can use a variety of documents, such as a paycheck, to prove identity.

But supporters of photo-ID requirements say they'll be improving the lives of those same people by forcing them to secure a government-issued photo ID. In the House committee hearing, Representative Dan Shaul (R-Imperial) asked Ashcroft about the other uses for photo IDs during the House committee hearing. Together, they talked through a list of benefits, such as using an ID for banking or entering some government buildings.

"So actually, you're doing more for the good of the people to give them the ID they need to do more than just vote, and you're doing it free of charge?" asked Shaul, who chairs the committee.

"We hope it helps people," Ashcroft replied.

click to enlarge Advocates for voter access rally outside Sen. Roy Blunt's St. Louis office. - PHUONG BUI
  • PHUONG BUI
  • Advocates for voter access rally outside Sen. Roy Blunt's St. Louis office.

The secretary of state said his office has helped about 1,000 people per year obtain photo IDs. His office has money set aside to help people obtain the documentation, such as birth certificates and other records, needed to complete the process, he added.

Simmons, the likely sponsor of another photo-ID bill, said those helped by Ashcroft's efforts would be better off.

"I applaud the secretary of state and the general assembly who put that provision in to help these people live a more engaged life as well as allow them to vote and have it be a protected vote," he said.

Photo-ID requirements and other restrictions are not doing any favors for people already facing barriers to voting, says Lieberman of MOVPC.

As a longtime attorney working on voting access cases, she represented plaintiffs in North Carolina, where lawmakers sought information on the type of voting methods used most by different races and then drew up legislation that — surprise — hit minority constituents particularly hard. A federal appeals court said the resulting law targeted Black voters with "nearly surgical precision."

New voting restriction laws tend to work that way, Lieberman says. And there has been a flood of them as Trump's false claims of fraud have taken hold with his base. More than 400 bills that would restrict voting access had been filed by mid-July in 2021 in statehouses across the country, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. More than 30 of those bills in eighteen states have been passed into law.

"They are targeting the very practices that voters of color use the most," Lieberman says in an interview. She describes the tactics as "un-American" and considers them a sign of a failure in messaging and vision, an attempt to rig the system as a way to advance unpopular platforms.

"Instead of attempting to include those individuals or expand their base, they realize they can more effectively win elections by limiting who's able to participate," she says.

Lieberman was among those who spoke at that September 15 hearing of the House Elections and Elected Officials committee. Ashcroft had told the committee his office was helping about 1,000 people a year obtain a valid, government-issued photo ID, but Lieberman warned that pace wouldn't come close to reaching the bulk of those who are legally registered but lack a valid driver's license or non-driver's ID. A 2017 report from the secretary of state's office counted more than 200,000 people who fell into that category. And while it's possible the true number is lower due to deaths and registered voters who have moved out of state or otherwise remain on the books, tens of thousands would be left in the wide gulf that remains.

Lieberman urged lawmakers to go a different route: expand access, make it easier to register, easier to vote by mail and abandon the long-running attempt to force new burdens onto people who can least afford them.

"It's patently unconstitutional," she said of strict photo-ID requirements. "We will file a lawsuit. It will be struck down. I suggest that it is folly to yet again consider legislation that it knows to be unconstitutional, that it knows to be struck down. Lawmakers took an oath to defend and protect the constitution of this state. We should not be promulgating legislation that we know clearly and fully to be unconstitutional."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at doyle.murphy@riverfronttimes.com or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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