Missouri is heading toward a slow-motion pile-up in about six weeks, when the state’s new voter ID law kicks in.
State officials, including Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, must speed up efforts to educate Missourians about coming changes to their fundamental right to vote.
After June 1, barring legal intervention, Missouri law will require voters to present an acceptable form of photographic identification to cast a ballot.
Alternatively, those without a photo ID will be required to sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, attesting to their name and address. Election authorities will be allowed to take a picture of the voter.
Those provisions are onerous enough in a state where turnout is typically, and depressingly, low. But it will scare some voters, particularly the poor and elderly, who may be reluctant to sign a legal document they don’t fully understand in order to cast a ballot.
That means more than 200,000 Missourians may soon seek non-driver’s license identification cards in order to vote. By law, the state must provide that ID at no cost to the voter.
Voters will need personal documents before getting the photo ID. That means finding a birth certificate, for example, or a divorce decree. By law, the secretary of state’s office must help voters find those documents, again at no cost to the voter.
You can see the problem. Obtaining a photo ID will be confusing and time-consuming for citizens and expensive for taxpayers.
Ashcroft can help voters navigate the new requirements. He needs to do more — much more — to explain these changes to the electorate. The secretary of state’s office offers a web page explaining the new rules, but that hardly meets the needs of voters without computers.
Secretary Ashcroft promises an aggressive ad campaign, including print and broadcast media, detailing the rules. But that won’t launch until June 1. That’s too late, and probably too little.
The Star will explain the new procedures, of course. To that end, let’s be clear: Qualified voters will not need to re-register to vote. They will just need an acceptable ID at the ballot box.
Additionally, the General Assembly must step up immediately to fully fund the new ID requirements. It may easily cost more than $1.5 million by next year, yet Gov. Eric Greitens has proposed spending just a fraction of that amount. The state Senate has yet to pass a budget allocating the money.
Here, lawmakers literally have no choice. If the requirements for free IDs and free documents aren’t paid for, the photo ID requirement cannot be enforced at the polls.
There is some good news. While the ID requirement kicks in June 1, Missourians won’t cast ballots until August. Major elections — like, say, for an airport — aren’t expected until November at the earliest.
With enough money and effort, Missourians should be sufficiently informed by then to avoid major disruption at the polls.
Legislators who have supported photo ID insist they’re fighting alleged voter fraud and not trying to suppress turnout. They have a chance to prove their commitment to free and fair elections, but time is running out.