By: Victoria Conrad
The phrase “I am from Missouri. You have got to show me” struck a new chord to voters this June.
June brought a new era for elections in Missouri: voters are now required to show identification to fill out a ballot. After decades of battling over a voter identification law, Republicans in the state legislature finally got their way.
In April of 2016, the Missouri State Senate considered a two-part proposal. The first part was a joint resolution to place a ballot measure before voters to create a constitutional amendment that would require voters to show a photo identification at the ballot. The preferred identification accepted at the polling place includes a state-issued driver’s license, a state-issued non-driver’s license, a U.S. passport, or military ID. The second part of the proposal governed how Missouri would enforce the requirement upon approval. This section required the legislature to fund a program that would help voters who do not already have a preferred ID obtain a state-sponsored non-driver’s license for free. To obtain this non-driver’s license, a voter will still need a valid record to show identification (i.e. birth certificate, marriage license, divorce decree, etc.).
Furthermore, if a voter shows up to the polls without a preferred state ID, a voter can still cast a ballot with a voter registration card, university ID, utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government documentation with a person’s name and address. Without a government ID or one of the other documents listed, a person will vote on a provisional ballot that will only count if the voter’s signature matches the signature on the voter’s registry or if the voter returns to show a valid state-issued ID.
Despite Democrats’ repeated attempts to block the bill, in May 2016, the Missouri Legislature voted to send a referendum to the voters that would amend the state constitution to require identification at the ballot. In November of 2016, voters supported the constitutional amendment 63-37 percent and the voter identification laws went into effect June 1, 2017.
Missouri Secretary of State, Jay Ashcroft is the biggest advocate of the bill. During an appearance in St. Louis in March, Ashcroft claimed that voter fraud has been changing elections, and that the new ID requirements will be the main tool to combat these threats. Since the law’s implementation, Ashcroft has traveled around Missouri to assure voters “if you’re not registered, we’ll get you registered,” and this new law “doesn’t affect anyone’s ability to vote.”
Opponents equate the voter ID law to “Jim Crow,” and allege it was designed to make voting more difficult for democratic-leaning constituents. Tempers flared when the special election for an aldermanic seat arrived in early July and officials acknowledge that the state does not have time to reach all voters who may want non-driver’s licenses before the election. St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones claimed, “Voter ID is another poll tax” and called on Ashcroft to provide more information to the estimated 220,000 Missourians who currently lack a state-issued photo ID. Although the officials assure the public that there are safeguards to ensure each voter can cast his or her vote, St. Louis civil rights attorney Denise Liberman warns that “Invariably, this law will cut people out.”
Missouri is one of several states to pass tighter voting-related laws in the last few years. The courts have become the fallback for many frustrated voters. Currently, two civil rights organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project, have filed suit on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Missouri. The suit alleges that Missouri has failed to provide funding for voter education, voter IDs for those who need them, and training for poll workers.