April 16, 2014

Cheap GOP tactics to undermine voting in Missouri

Republicans in the General Assembly are mounting a two-pronged effort to make voting more difficult for certain citizens, who are most likely to be elderly, low-income, students or minorities.

Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are mounting a two-pronged effort to make voting more difficult for certain citizens, who are most likely to be elderly, low-income, students or minorities.

They’re not even subtle about it.

On one front, the annual effort to require voters to produce government-issued photo identification at the polls is moving quickly. If the Senate votes in favor, a resolution seeking a

constitutional amendment

requiring photo identification will be headed for the November ballot.

A separate effort, endorsed Wednesday by the House, is a pre-emptive strike against a citizen-initiated ballot proposal to finally get early voting in Missouri.

In a show of pettiness, the House budget even deletes $79,900 in funding for a special unit of the secretary of state’s office that investigates allegations of election improprieties.


elections integrity unit

is a more effective and less expensive way to ensure that elections work well than a cumbersome voter ID law. Created by Secretary of State Jason Kander, it follows up on complaints and suspected problems. The intent is not only to look out for the slim prospect that an ineligible citizen may try to cast a ballot, but to make sure that the process of voting works well for citizens who are eligible.

Rep. John Diehl, the House majority leader, proposed stripping $79,900 intended to hire two new election fraud investigators. If the unit is that important, an office with 271 full-time employees can keep it running, Diehl noted.

He’s got a point. But Diehl’s logic falls apart when he advocates for the photo ID law approved by the House.

Analysts estimate that carrying out such a requirement could cost the state as much as $6.4 million next year. The state would incur the expenses of processing free driver’s licenses and official non-driver ID cards for people who sign an affidavit that they need the documentation to vote. The secretary of state’s office would need to send out mailings and air public service announcements telling people of the new requirements.

That’s a huge cost, especially because Republicans have been able to produce zero examples of voter identity fraud in Missouri.

Clearly, saving money isn’t the issue here.

On Wednesday, the House took aim at a citizens’ initiative that seeks to add Missouri to the 35 states that permit some form of early voting.

A coalition, the

Missouri Early Voting Fund

, is gathering signatures in hopes of putting a question on the November ballot. Its proposal would require voting to start six weeks before the election, with opportunities to vote on Saturday and Sundays for the final 21 days.

A separate House


that passed on Wednesday, sponsored by Rep. Tony Dugger of Hartville, would create a nine-day early voting opportunity, but not on Sunday — a popular early voting day for low-income and minority voters. The House resolution also gives the legislature a big loophole: If lawmakers don’t appropriate money for early voting on any given year, it won’t happen.

If both proposals would appear on the same ballot, the question that received the most votes would prevail. But it shouldn’t get that far. The Senate should do the right thing and halt this attempt to undercut a legitimate citizens’ initiative.

Kander and others have good ideas for encouraging voter participation and for ensuring that elections run smoothly in Missouri. Republicans in the legislature ought to link arms with those efforts, not undermine them.

The GOP’s unfortunate pursuit of a photo ID requirement, which has proved costly and unwieldy in other states, looks more like a political ploy to restrict turnout of Democratic voters than an actual attempt at reform. The same goes for the transparent ploy to confuse the early voting initiative.

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