BARBARA SHELLY

Yes, the Rizzo-Royster race turned on voter fraud

Updated: 2013-05-14T23:21:34Z

By BARBARA SHELLY

The Kansas City Star

It now appears that the wrong candidate was declared winner of the 2010 Democratic primary in Missouri’s 19th District.

That would be the contentious race between John Rizzo and Will Royster. Rizzo survived a recount, a court challenge and an appeal to the Missouri House leadership, and served a full term in the House before being re-elected without opposition in November. The record shows he defeated Royster by one vote.

But, as The Star is reporting, Rizzo’s uncle has pleaded guilty in federal court to voting in Rizzo’s district when he in fact lived north of the river.

The issue of John Moretina’s residence was raised after the election. Rizzo at the time told me his uncle had lived in his district for some months recently, and was residing north of the river because of health problems.

That seemed plausible, although Royster’s camp correctly noted that tax records showed Moretina’s official residence was in Gladstone. It is not uncommon for people to move back and forth; the issue with voting is where they have established their permanent residence. Apparently, federal prosecutors believe that is the Gladstone address.

I’ll eat a bowl of crow, here. I was too willing to accept Rizzo’s explanation for the discrepancy. Maybe Rizzo really thought the uncle’s official residence was still in Columbus Park, although he should have known better. Moretina’s guilty plea means the election ended in a tie. And if Moretina’s wife also voted in Rizzo’s district, as Royster’s backers allege, then Royster was denied a legitimate claim to the Democratic candidacy.

That said, only a legal investigation was going to settle the residency claim, and it’s taken over two years to do so.

Since verifiable claims of voter fraud are hard to come by, it’s inevitable this one will be seized upon as a case for stricter voter laws. But let’s note that the onerous photo ID measures being contemplated in Missouri wouldn’t have prevented Moretina’s residency fraud. One could easily produce a current driver’s license or passport with a slightly old address.

This looks like a case of an overzealous family member making a bad mistake, which came to light because of the closeness of the race. It should serve as a cautionary tale, but not a cause for a wholesale rewriting of voter laws.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/bshelly.

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