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09 February 2012

Kelley: Rhode Island's Democrats Enacted Voter ID Requirement, Why Not Missouri's?

Let me start this week’s Capitol Review with a story that has so far escaped national attention. This story is about a state—led by a governor known for controversial positions, and backed by an overwhelmingly partisan legislature. This state recently passed a bill to require photo identification before allowing its citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Critics from the Democratic Party dismissed it as “out-of-touch,” “discriminatory,” and a step back. Democratic stalwarts such as Bill Clinton alluded to laws like this being a return to the days of Jim Crow. Even the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, proclaimed on national television, “I don't regret calling attention to the efforts in a number of states with Republican-dominated legislatures . . . to restrict access to the ballot box for all kinds of voters, but particularly young voters, African Americans and Hispanic Americans.”

So what far right-wing Republican state passed such a backwards law designed to discriminate against minorities and the poor? Rhode Island—led by liberal governor Lincoln Chafee and an overwhelming Democratic General Assembly. Yes, even in one of the bluest states in the nation, with a House of Representatives composed of 65 Democrats, 9 Republicans and 1 Libertarian, and with a Senate composed of 29 Democrats, 8 Republicans, and 1 Independent, the Assembly found it fit to pass a voter ID law. This was not by a threadbare majority, either—the Rhode Island House passed the measure by a vote of 54-21, and the Rhode Island Senate passed it by an astounding 34-3.

This raises the question: if it can be done in Rhode Island, why not Missouri?

That is why the House tackled a voter identification bill this week. HB 1104, sponsored by Shane Schoeller, mandates that any person who wishes to vote must simply show a valid photo identification before they are able to vote. If the voter does not have valid identification, they are allowed to cast a provisional ballot, which will then be counted if they return to their local election authority within three days to present the appropriate identification. Those who cannot afford to pay the cost associated with obtaining valid identification are able to sign an affidavit to receive a ballot. Further, any and all costs incurred by a local election authority in implementing the photo identification requirement will be incurred by the state of Missouri. In short, HB 1104 is a common-sense piece of legislation that protects our most sacred and fundamental right as citizens of a representative republic.

It is easy to turn up stories of voter fraud across the United States. And these are not new—as a historical sidenote, many scholars suggest that there is evidence to speculate that John F. Kennedy led our Nation into his “New Frontier” with help from voter fraud in Chicago and Texas. More recent stories about ACORN’s responsibility for 400,000 faulty voter registrations nationwide in 2008, 5,000 non-citizens voting in the 2010 Colorado Senate race, and a 2008 report in Wisconsin that spoke of organized attempts to cheat at the ballot box give more reason to be on alert. And the Republican National Committee, in an effort to ensure these cases do not go unnoticed, conducted research that found that 46 out of our 50 states had documented, confirmed instances of voter fraud.

Opponents of HB 1104 and similar pieces of legislation from past sessions of the General Assembly have always been quick to pronounce that such isn’t the case in Missouri. But contrary to their talking points, the possibility for voter fraud is also present in the Show-Me State. reported in 2010 that there are 15 counties in Missouri where the number of registered voters exceeded the eligible voting population—including Reynolds County, which had an astonishing 125% voter registration. Back in 2004, the Kansas City Star reported that Missouri had an astounding 98% voter registration, and in 2005, a federal court found that 37 Missouri jurisdictions had more registered voters than eligible voters.

Does this conclusively prove that voter fraud is occurring? No. But, when there are such obvious flaws in the system that there are more registered voters than eligible voters, something has to be done. Just because the cliché to “give 110% percent” has become conventional wisdom doesn’t mean we need to abide by that philosophy when it comes to voter registration.

And, for all the talks from opponents that this legislation would disenfranchise voters, the facts are coming in from states like Georgia, which saw African-American turnout rise from 42% in 2006 to over 50% in 2010—after Georgia passed a voter identification bill similar to HB 1104. Similar stories arose in Indiana and Mississippi. And why wouldn’t they? After all, according to a Rasmussen poll, 69% of Americans support the common-sense requirement of showing photo identification before being allowed to vote. Opponents of the bill should realize something: when you get to 69% support on a particular piece of legislation, it’s no longer a preference of the voters—it’s a mandate, and it’s a dereliction of our duty as representatives of the people if we don’t abide by their wishes for nothing more than partisan political purposes.

The Missouri House passed House Bill 1104 this week by perfecting, printing and third reading it. It will now move on to the Missouri Senate, but if it’s anything like last year, it will pass out and head to Governor Nixon’s desk only to receive a VETO. I do have to wonder why Governor Nixon doesn’t like this simple piece of legislation that seems to be of good common sense to this Legislator.

Please contact me with any suggestions that you may have for Missouri legislation. Also, if you should experience problems in contacting or resolving an issue with a Missouri state agency, please feel free to call my Capitol office at (573) 751-2165 or email at mike{dot}kelley{at}house{dot}mo{dot}gov. Thank you for the honor to serve as your Representative in the Missouri House of Representatives. Until my next update, I am, and remain, in your service.

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