Let’s talk about democracy — that form of government that’s of the people, by the people, for the people.
The last month has borne a string of precedent-shattering victories for democracy, starting with a conservative federal appeals court striking down Texas’ voter ID law as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Then, a Wisconsin federal judge threw out parts of similar voter ID legislation found to be enacted for the sole benefit of partisan officeholders.
In North Carolina, federal judges overturned one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws, ruling it was adopted with “discriminatory intent.” In our own backyard, a last-minute state court decision gutted an overly restrictive Kansas voter ID law that could have kept ballots from 17,500 Kansas voters from counting in state-level races last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the myth of voter fraud continues to be debunked. A comprehensive study found only 31 individual cases of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes cast in the U.S. since 2000. That’s 0.000003 percent, y’all. Researchers conclude that reports of voter fraud are about as common as reports of alien abduction.
These sweeping decisions suggest a nation rejecting voter disenfranchisement as a means of political power hoarding. Too bad the Missouri legislature is hell-bent on remaining behind the times. Missouri’s Constitution actually protects against this kind of high-stakes voter-suppression chicanery, which is why our state Supreme Court has declared similar voter restriction legislation illegal every time it has gone before the court.
In 2006, the court struck down a voter ID law as an unconstitutional infringement on the “fundamental right to vote” in Missouri. But in the final hours of the 2016 session, Senate Republicans forced voter ID legislation through the General Assembly as constitutional Amendment 6.
Amendment 6 is a blatant attempt to gut the right to vote from the Missouri Constitution, and it’s on the Nov. 8 ballot. If it passes, the draconian policy would keep as many as a quarter million Missouri voters from the polls, strictly limiting the kind of identification voters could show. There’s absolutely no public good or rational basis for such extreme legislation.
And who loses if Amendment 6 gets a majority of votes on Election Day? Thousands of Missouri seniors were born at home without formal birth certificates, including a few of my friends’ grandparents. Passing Amendment 6 means the decades they’ve put into our democracy don’t matter — they’d be cut out going forward.
My kid sister doesn’t have a car or a driver’s license, but she sure loves to vote. Reads the presidential polls like a madwoman, even organized turnout at candidate rallies from her college. Amendment 6 says she’d be kicked out of her polling place, too.
And all the women who’ve gotten married or divorced in the past year and changed their names? Amendment 6 comes equipped with disproportionate gender burden, and their votes wouldn’t count, either.
Voter restriction laws like Missouri’s Amendment 6 are undemocratic by definition. They aren’t about protecting against voter fraud. They’re about building obstacles to the ballot box so that thousands of our citizens cannot vote.
But here’s the good news. We, the people, get a chance to stop Amendment 6 in its tracks. We get to decide if a government of, by and for us thrives, or perishes.
Molly Fleming of Kansas City is a community organizer leading the PICO National Network's campaign to end predatory payday and coordinating Missouri's grass-roots community organizations in their work to put ordinary people at the center of democracy. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.