Voters need protection from self-appointed “vote protectors”

For now, at least, there’s not going to be a voter “protection” ballot measure on Missouri’s  November 2012 ballot, and that’s good news for voters. But this is not a local story, and it’s far from over. It’s just the one that I live closest to. And it’s emblematic of what’s happening in many states.

In 2011, the Missouri legislature passed a ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would amend the state constitution to make it easier for lawmakers to make it harder for people to vote. Ostensibly, this measure will “protect” us from voter fraud. Recently, [March 11, 2012], a Missouri circuit court judge rejected the ballot measure, which had the Orwellian name of “Voter Protection Act.”

Behind the “protection” subterfuge, of course, is the real motive: an effort to suppress voting by people who Republicans would love to keep away from the polls. The measure would require voters to present government-issued photo ID at the polls. The catch is that not everyone has a driver’s license or state ID, and to get one, you have to present your birth certificate or citizenship documents—and those cost money and time. And who are the people who don’t have these items? Mostly, it’s low-income and minority voters—and those demographic groups tend to vote for Democrats.

But what truly amazes me about the latest Missouri voter suppression bill is who is sponsoring it. It’s State Rep. Shane Schoeller, a Republican from Springfield, Missouri. Schoeller is currently a candidate for….wait for it…Missouri Secretary of State, and the juxtaposition of his voter suppression bill with his electoral quest is ironic, to say the least. In Missouri, the Secretary of State is in charge of elections. He or she oversees registration, candidate filing, voter registration and elections. You would think that the main missions of that job would be to make sure that everyone who’s eligible to vote can actually vote, to make sure the voting process is fair, transparent and therefore trustworthy, and to enfranchise as many people as possible, as a way of promoting participation in the democratic process. I guess that’s not how Schoeller sees the job. By the looks of the bill he introduced, it seems that he views  becoming Secretary of State as a way of ensuring victories for his fellow Republicans.

The judge who threw out Schoeller’s latest attempt at voter suppression said that the name of the ballot measure, the “Voter Protection Act,” violated truth-in-advertising requirements.The problem is that the wording in the ballot measure doesn’t contain the phrase “voter protection,” and, under Missouri rules, you at least have to show that your law is somehow related to what it’s named for.

Unfortunately, the most recent legal setback to the voter-suppression initiative hasn’t discouraged Schoeller from reintroducing the same thing all over again.  Apparently, nothing deters the vote suppressors from their mission: not the fact that photo voter ID was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006, and not even the fact that that studies of allegations of voter fraud in Missouri have turned up no evidence of fraud that could have been prevented by requiring photo ID. Less than two weeks after the Cole County Circuit Court threw out the 2011 ballot initiative, Schoeller has introduced a new bill, with ballot language that supposedly more closely conforms to the rules, into the Missouri legislature, and just today [April 3, 2012], a Missouri House committee approved the do-over.  Schoeller hopes to get it passed before the legislative session ends in June, so that it can be placed on the November 2012 ballot.

Missouri is just one of many states that are working on similar laws, as part of a national, ALEC-driven effort to skew elections toward Republican voters. One can only hope that the courts continue to see through the fraudulent claim of voter fraud and that they and citizens realize the importance, in our increasingly fragile democratic system, of protecting voters from the vote “protectors.”