OPINION: Missouri saved from the worst of voter suppression wave – for now

0
52

The ShowMe State is already near the bottom in access to the ballot – and lawmakers have promised to make voting even harder.

By DENISE LIEBERMAN

The right to vote is under attack across the country – including Missouri – by measures to make voting harder, particularly for voters of color, young voters, seniors, voters with disabilities, and low-wage workers.

Fueled by the Big Lie, lawmakers in Republican-controlled states unleashed a four-fold increase in restrictive voting bills in 2021. According to the Brennan Center, 389 restrictive voting bills were introduced in 48 states this year. They share similarities: making absentee voting harder, curtailing remote voting, stricter voter ID rules, and making the citizen initiative process harder. Missouri was no exception to this national wave.

MISSOURI INCLUDED
The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, a non-partisan statewide network of some 50 partner organizations, leads legislative advocacy on voter access in Missouri.

While we tracked nearly three dozen voting bills – including some to make voting more accessible – the majority of our priority efforts on legislation were defensive, fighting bills trying to make voting harder, especially for Missourians who already face the greatest barriers to the ballot.

These included bills to implement strict photo ID rules, restrict access to mail-in voting, and burden the citizen initiative process. Such measures passed out of the Missouri House and Senate Elections Committee, and were poised for passage heading into the final week of the legislative session.

BE PREPARED TO FIGHT AGAIN
It was a nail-biter to the end, but fortunately, none of these measures came to a final vote this year. But we are not out of the woods yet, as lawmakers have asked Governor Parson for a special session on voting, and the House Elections Committee announced an interim committee on elections to tackle these measures during the recess. We must remain prepared to respond to these legislative attacks as they emerge again.

Here is a summary of the bills trying to restrain your voting rights:

PHOTO ID
Among the more insidious bills in Missouri were measures to enshrine strict photo ID requirements to vote (HB334, HB738, SB282, HB1065).

These bills would eliminate forms of identification Missourians currently use, including a voter identification card from the election authority, or a Missouri student ID, leaving primarily just the kind of ID you must get at a Motor Vehicles office. State data shows that more than 200,000 Missourians lack a non-expired state issued ID.

Consider, while many of us have a Missouri license or ID, it can be hard for those who do not. Here’s why:

  • Many DMV offices are not open evenings and weekends, making it hard for hourly and shift workers.
  • Many are not accessible by public transportation.
  • Not every Missouri county has a DMV office.
  • And, to get a state ID, you must present underlying documents like a certified birth certificate, which can be difficult to get, especially out of state. (Many states require a photo ID to get a copy of your birth certificate). You can be thwarted if there are errors or spelling mismatches among underlying documents. Some even have to get a legal name change to correct mismatched information.

This is why the Missouri Supreme Court has consistently concluded that eliminating other forms of ID would be unconstitutional and violate Missourians’ right to vote. Missouri already requires all voters to show ID and it works.

ABSENTEE VOTING
Missouri is already behind the vast majority of the states that allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot.

Missouri limits absentee voting only to those who cite one of six reasons they cannot go to the polls on Election Day. Several bills (HB738, SB282, HB1065) attempted make it harder to vote absentee:

  • Allowing no-excuse absentee voting, but ONLY for those who could appear in person at election headquarters.
  • Requiring voters who need an absentee ballot by mail – think seniors, workers who cannot get off work, or those with chronic health conditions – still must provide a reason. And being over 65, having to work, or having a chronic health condition are NOT valid reasons to vote absentee.

While both Republican and Democrat local election authorities applauded the increase in absentee voting in Missouri in 2020 as “timely, accurate and secure,” the simple truth is that no-excuse absentee voting should apply to all voters, especially those who need absentee ballots the most.

INITIATIVE PETITION ROLLBACKS
Lawmakers also sought to make it harder for Missourians to make their voices heard through the citizen initiative process – an essential vehicle of democratic participation.

These mirror proposals in states where citizens have successfully passed laws when legislators were silent to their pleas.

Missouri citizens’ passage of Medicaid expansion, the defeat of the so-called “right-to-work” and the increase in the state’s minimum wage, among other measures, prompted these attacks. The bills (HJR 20, HB333) would significantly increase the number of signatures (and cost) needed to get a measure on the ballot, and increase the threshold to pass, from a majority to two-thirds, making it extremely difficult to pass. Medicaid expansion would not have passed in Missouri under those provisions.

DOWN, BUT NOT OUT
While these measures were temporarily saved from the Governor’s desk, they are coming back and we must be ready.

Please join the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition’s efforts to protect the right to vote for all Missouri’s voters at https://movpc.us4.list-manage.com/subscribe.

(Denise Lieberman, a nationally recognized voting rights lawyer, is director and general counsel of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, the faculty director of the Voter Access and Engagement Initiative at Washington University in St. Louis, and a legislative advisor to the Brennan Center for Justice.)

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here