We have a lot of problems in Missouri. Election Day voter fraud isn’t one of them. So, naturally, the GOP feels a need to fast track Voter ID proposals to combat imaginary fraud with Voter Photo IDs. And on the fourteenth day after the General Assembly came into session, the Missouri House gave first round approval t0 legislation designed to disenfranchise voters.
House Joint Resolution 53 by State Rep. Tony Dugger, a rancher from Wright County, would require a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to maybe require Voter IDs.
It is horrible public policy to junk up a state constitution with a maybe, a generic promise to consider constitutional some future act by State legislators.
You would give the General Assembly incredible power over your right to vote with that Constitutional Amendment. They could, as example, require you to be tattoo barcoded with an ID number in order to vote. It’s highly unlikely that would happen but that is how vague the proposed Constitutional Amendment is.
House Bill 1631 by State Rep. Justin Alferman, a former Missouri House staffer from Hermann, would maybe require Voter IDs and establish, subject to funding, a new state bureaucracy to make it happen.
Under House Bill 1631, if you could not afford a State ID, the State or your local DMV Office (such as the DMV office at City Hall run by Collector of Revenue Gregg Daly) would provide you with a free one.
But, in order to obtain a State ID in Missouri, and every other state, you have to provide supportive documentation on who you are, including a certified copy of your Birth Certificate. Under House Bill 1631, the State or your local Health Department’s Vital Records office (or Recorder of Deeds in the case of St. Louis City) would have to give you a free copy of your Birth Certificate.
Great. Not great. Apparently, State Rep. Alferman has not recently purchased a copy of a Birth Certificate. In most states, including Missouri, you must provide a Photo ID to get the copy. So, before you can get a Missouri ID, you must already have a valid ID. Oops.
Then there’s the certified copy of your Marriage License that you’ll need if your current name is different from your birth name because of marriage. It’s not free and House Bill 1631 can’t force county offices that issue Marriage Licenses (Recorder of Deeds) to give out free copies without the State paying for it, which is not articulated in the proposal.
And what if you were born in another state or married in another country? The Missouri General Assembly cannot force others to give you a free copy of your Birth Certificate or Marriage License or do away with their identification before purchase requirements.
When I hear from Voter ID proponents that only a few people would be hurt by all this, I think back to when people in wheelchairs could not vote because their polling place or their election office was up a flight of stairs. Back then people also said, it only affects a few. The number affected still made it very wrong.
These Voter ID proposals are a solution to an imaginary illegal election day problem in Missouri. Have there been voter registration cases? Yes. The legislation, however, has nothing to do with that. Nor does the legislation have anything to do with absentee ballots, which do not currently require an ID.
The history of election fraud and intrigue in St. Louis began in 1814 with the election of Rufus Easton as our Missouri Territory Delegate to Congress. Easton’s opponent, John Scott, contested the election based on fraud. During the two year election investigation, Easton made his mark upon Missouri as champion of new post offices, land grants for veterans, and the first federal disaster relief in the U.S.- land grants for New Madrid Earthquake victims. And, then, after all his accomplishments, Congress overturned his election because of incompetence by election officials.
In the 1816 Easton v. Scott election, Scott won by a mere 15 votes and Easton contested the results. Irregularities included polling places moved without notice; no one showing up to conduct the election at some polling places; sheriffs were not given proper notice on polling places so they could do their job protecting the integrity of the ballot boxes; and there were no poll books kept to document voter registration and who voted. On top of that, there was a fair amount of voter intimidation, violence at polling places being as normal for the times as settling disagreements with duels.
Congress declared the seat vacant, again, and called for a new election. The 1817 Easton v. Scott election had much of the same drama as the previous election, but Scott’s supporters introduced whiskey for votes at polling places. Scott was victorious. It was not even close.
Ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 did not really guarantee the right to vote for African American men. States enacted poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise them. Additionally, here in St. Louis, there was disenfranchisement by criminal record of someone who shared the same last name.
The St. Louis Police Department once made lists of ex-offenders. Police used the lists to make arrests of African Americans at the polls, it being illegal for an ex-offender to vote at the time. It mattered not that your address did not match the address of the ex-offender. It mattered not that your name was only close to that of an ex-offender. It mattered not that the ex-offender’s offense was from somewhere in Missouri that you had never heard of. It mattered not that the ex-offender was not African American.
Those arrested were jailed but never convicted. The entire exercise was about throwing out the ballots of men of color and trying to provide a menacing environment where African Americans would not even try to vote.
Voter intimidation was common by organized crime- Egan’s Rats and Bottoms Gang- in St. Louis in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Election-related murders occurred. There was the stuffing of ballot boxes, but keeping men from voting had a far bigger impact on the outcome of elections.
The 1916 Presidential Election in St. Louis was tainted by a growing belief in the St. Louis Police Department and Democratic Party that men of color were being imported into St. Louis by Republicans- known as “colonization”- to influence elections.
The 1917 Missouri General Assembly Joint Special Committee on the Contest of Lamm v. Gardner for Governor decided not to provide a full and fair investigation of election fraud because of the time and expense required. One of the issues in the contested election was the charge “that two thousand negroes were intimidated by arrest and threats of arrest, and by reason of such intimidation did not cast their ballots.”
And on and on and on. We know what election fraud looks like in Missouri. It is the face of those who would steal an election by making it more difficult to register and vote, who try to intimidate the less powerful, and who would reduce turnout if given the opportunity.
This latest proposals might pay for some documentation not easily obtained, or that may not even exist, in an effort to remove the poll tax stigma. And so, again, we, the taxpayers, will pick up the tab for law suits to defend voters against something we thought we outlawed.
But it was not until the Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections decision on March 24, 1966, that poll taxes were eliminated for state and local elections.
It is 2016 and the Missouri General Assembly still does not get it- “There can be no one too poor to vote,” said President Lyndon Johnson upon ratification of the 24th Amendment.
Voting is a responsibility to be shared by us all, not just a few. We can and should make voting easier, not harder, and we can do it while safeguarding the integrity of the results.
If you would like to contact your state legislators on this or another matter, you can find contact information here.