Groups speak out against implementation of Missouri voter ID law (Updated June 1 at 8:20 a.m.)
When Missouri voters passed Constitutional Amendment 6 in the November 2016 general election, they did so despite an outcry that it would disenfranchise certain groups of people and hinder their right to vote.
One day before the law went into effect, members of the Mar-Saline NAACP, Mid Missouri Progressives and Missouri Voter Protection Coalition gathered at the south steps of the Saline County Courthouse in Marshall to voice their displeasure with the law and the way it is being implemented by state election officials. The amendment passed with 62.8 percent of the vote in Saline County and slightly more than 63 percent of the vote statewide.
Clyde Williams, president of the Mar-Saline branch of the NAACP, stated the press conference in Marshall was part of a larger effort across the state as similar events were held on the courthouse steps of other venues that same morning. He and other speakers denounced the efforts of state election officials, particularly the office of Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, in waiting until the last minute to issue guidance for local election officials and training poll workers, as well as issuing policies for the law's implementation that the groups say are insufficient. Ashcroft's office published emergency rules on May 25 pertaining to how the law will be enacted.
Williams stated that while one of the rules governs the provision of free IDs to voters in need of them, the rules do not address the major concerns of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, such as when voters without ID will be allowed to cast regular ballots and not provisional ballots. Provisional ballots, speaker David Faris explained, can be cast by those without photo ID, but would not be tabulated unless the voter returned to the poll with an ID that meets the requirements. Forms of government-issued photo ID with a valid expiration date that will be accepted include a driver license, nondriver license, passport or military ID. Williams said the coalition has demanded that Secretary Ashcroft provide clear guidance to local election authorities that includes model poll worker training modules, and that he engage in robust education of voters and reach out to voters who lack ID.
Wednesday afternoon, Secretary Ashcroft issued a response to the campaign against the new law.
"I am shocked and appalled by the misinformation campaign being run by these opponents of Missouri's voter ID law," Ascroft is quoted in the release. "Their efforts are deplorable and intentionally designed to confuse and mislead Missourians just as we are beginning a statewide public education campaign. Missouri's voter ID law will not disenfranchise a single voter. Bottom line, if you're registered to vote, you can vote — despite the misinformation that was shared today."
The statement further announces a statewide public education campaign would begin June 1, including a statewide media campaign with informational events across the state.
Speakers reiterated claims made before the election that the law was a solution looking for a problem and that instances of voter fraud were exceedingly rare in Missouri. Instead, they said the law would inevitably lead to people being preempted from voting, particularly people of color, students, seniors and those with disabilities.
"This was an effort engineered by Missouri politicians who don't want certain groups of people to have a voice," speaker Disa Faris said. "They will do anything to stay in power, including restricting the right to vote. Politicians shouldn't be able to manipulate the voting process for political gain. This law is bad enough as it is. Unfortunately, our state's election officials have made things worse. The photo ID law's rollout has been a process mired in confusion, lack of direction, inadequate funding, and disregard for Missourians' fundamental right to vote. Managing the votes of Missourians is no joke, and yet they've turned this process into a farce."
Williams described the law as a modern-day poll tax and a negative reaction to public movements that started in Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown. He cited a 2006 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court to rule a strict photo ID law unconstitutional because of the burden it placed on the right to vote.
"It is a retaliation for continued movement to affirm our humanity as free black people," Williams said. "We come from a long legacy of struggle and resistance, from Joplin to St. Louis, from Chilicothe down the boot hill. Our ancestors have given their lives to protect the right to vote."
Ultimately, Williams concluded the law would establish those without photo ID as second class citizens, reiterated that attempts to prevent that outcome had not been sufficient and that the efforts of officials set a troubling standard for the way the law would be managed by the state in the years to come.
Contact Arron Hustead at firstname.lastname@example.org