We dare you: Go out and ask 10 Missourians of voting age if they know about the state’s new voter ID law. Here’s betting that seven of them will give you a blank stare.
But on Thursday, the law goes into effect, and that poses big challenges for state officials responsible for getting word out about this whopper of a change to the right to vote.
Some steps have been taken to do just that. But more is needed.
The law now prescribes that the next time you go to a polling place, you need to present an acceptable form of voter ID to cast a ballot. Kansas already has such a law.
In Missouri, if you don’t have an ID with you, you can still vote. But legal documents would have to be signed “under penalty of perjury” and, possibly, your photograph would be taken.
In other words, there are things to know about this new law.
That’s exactly why this editorial board and dozens of groups around the state, including some who protested in downtown Kansas City Wednesday, opposed voter ID. Voting is a right. Election officials should find ways to make it easier, not tougher.
This new law mucks up the works and injects confusion into the electorate. That could discourage voters from showing up on election days.
Missouri officials, most notably Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, must educate the public about what the new law requires. On the plus side, Ashcroft’s office has launched a website aimed at explaining the law. His office has reached out to every member of the General Assembly to set up meetings with voters.
And election officials from Ashcroft’s office — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — are meeting with election officials from every county in the state to answer questions about implementation.
On Thursday, $1.4 million worth of public service announcements will begin airing on radio and TV. That may sound like a lot of money, but a week’s worth of statewide advertising for a single spot now runs north of $500,000.
Voters will need reminding in August, November and again next year. More advertising dollars are needed.
Also, officials cut money to send letters to registered voters notifying them of the change. The state’s promise to find needed documentation for voters who lack a photo ID is backed by only a $100,000 appropriation. That can be a particular challenge for women who change their last names when they get married.
Bottom line: This is a big change to election laws, and there’s still too much confusion. Officials need to do everything possible to ensure that all voters know what they need to do to cast a ballot in Missouri.