Photo ID: MO Amendment 6 weakens the right to vote

photo IDOnce again, Missouri’s Republican-dominated legislature is pushing for a photo ID requirement for voting in this state. This time, it’s on the Nov. 8 ballot as Constitutional Amendment 6. While other state legislatures have passed similar laws, this is the first time that a photo-ID measure weakening the right to vote has been put to a statewide vote anywhere in the US.  And, unfortunately, polling seems to indicate that it’s going to pass by a huge majority.

Why? Last night, I worked at a League of Women Voters phone bank, where we talked to voters about Amendment 6. Here are some of the misconceptions and biases we encountered, and some countervailing arguments, courtesy of the Advancement Project:

“What’s the problem? Everyone should have to show ID to vote.”

Missouri already requires voter ID. Acceptable forms of ID include: a college ID; a driver’s license; a driver’s license from another state; an expired ID; a voter registration card; a utility bill; a federal ID card. Amendment 6 needlessly limits the forms of acceptable ID and would not allow anything other than a Missouri driver’s license or a state-issued non-driver ID card. .

“But you need a photo ID to get on an airplane and to cash a check. What’s the big deal?”

The Constitution does not guarantee the right to fly on an airplane, or the right to cash a check. But the Constitution does guarantee your right to vote. Adding an obstacle and a hassle to voting interferes with that right.

“I’ve got my ID already. This doesn’t affect me.”

It could. Or it could affect a family member, a neighbor or a friend. More than 220,000 Missouri voters lack a state ID. African-Americans, seniors, people with disabilities, the working poor, and students are nearly twice as likely to lack a non-expired state ID. Another 100,000 Missouri voters have a photo ID, but it has expired—in many cases that’s because they have stopped driving due to older age or disability. Under Amendment 6, their ID’s would no longer be accepted.

Added together, that’s 320,000 people who won’t be able to vote with their current form of ID. That number equals 10 percent of the total number of votes expected in Missouri in the 2016 presidential election on November 8.

“We need photo ID to prevent dead people from voting and other people from voting more than once.”

National studies examining millions of votes cast in past elections have turned up less than 50 cases of voter impersonation. There have been no cases of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri—the only voting problem addressed by a photo-ID requirement. Photo ID doesn’t address registration or absentee voting problems. Most states have checks and balances in place at polling places that would make voter impersonation extremely difficult. In Missouri, for example, both a Republican and a Democratic election official must sign off on every voter’s ID. Amendment 6 poses a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

“People should stop whining. What does a new ID cost, anyway—maybe 15 bucks?”

The logistics of getting a new photo ID can be complicated. You need a copy of your birth certificate, which can be hard to obtain for elderly people. [And, as one phone banker told us, to get a copy of your birth certificate in the City of St. Louis, you need—wait for it—a valid Missouri driver’s license. Catch 22!]

As to costs, the Missouri legislature has promised that it will pay for photo IDs. The estimated cost  is more than $16 million in tax dollars. Unfortunately, that’s a rather empty promise, as no money has been allocated in the state budget for this purpose.

“Never heard of it.”

Neither have a lot of people. Amendment 6 is one of those end-of-ballot propositions that surprise and puzzle voters. But it’s really important, because it is designed to making voting harder. Elections should be free, fair and accessible to everyone who is eligible to vote. The legislature passed a similar law—not a constitutional amendment—in 2006. But the Missouri Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, calling voter ID “a heavy and substantial burden” on the right to vote.

“Is this something that Republicans have come up with?”

Yep. Photo ID requirements fall more heavily on older voters and on minorities. They tend to vote Democratic. This is politically motivated attempt at suppressing the Democratic vote.

“So, wait. You want me to vote NO?”