Missouri is truly leading this race to the bottom. While other state courts – notably Kansas, Wisconsin, Texas, South Dakota, and North Carolina – strike down photo ID laws, the Missouri legislature has decided to circumvent the courts, and amend the constitution to make photo ID legally palatable.
This photo voter ID legislation impacts and matters to everyone. It matters to minority, women, trans*, student, disabled, senior, veteran, and immigrant voters. (Coincidentally, these are the same demographics denigrated by national electoral rhetoric.) The folks pushing this legislation see it as a solution to in-person voter fraud, which does not exist. There have been 31 credible cases of voter fraud nationally, and none of them would be solved with photo voter ID. This is a solution in search of a problem.
This fact has not stopped state lawmakers from pushing this agenda.
In 2016, the Republican controlled Missouri general assembly passed sibling photo voter ID legislation - House Joint Resolution 53 and House Bill 1631. This legislation is ten years in the making.
In 2006, the legislature passed through a photo ID law as a House Bill. Then-Governor Matt Blunt, son of current Senator Roy Blunt, signed the bill into law. When challenged at the Missouri Supreme Court, it was deemed unconstitutional, violating several provisions in the state constitution.The justices said requiring otherwise legitimate voters to obtain an appropriate identification imposed too great of a burden on their voting rights.
After ten years of stalled bills, vetoed bills, and threats from the Democratic super minority to filibuster any photo ID legislation in the Senate, the Missouri GOP decided to push photo voter ID as a rarely used, but incredibly effective workaround, form of legislation - as the house joint resolution (HJR). HJRs cannot be vetoed by the Governor – currently blue-dog Democrat, Jay Nixon – and they are generally used to add ballot language.
HJR 53 is now Amendment 6.
If passed, Amendment 6 fundamentally alters the Missouri constitution. It weakens the voter protection language, which is stronger than the federal constitution. It makes photo voter ID legislation constitutional. The enabling piece of legislation, HB 1631, would implement photo ID requirements. The current language of HB 1631 states that the only forms of acceptable voter ID are non-expired state issued photo IDs.
A joint Secretary of State and Department of Revenue 2011 study shows that 220,000 Missourians are registered to vote but do not have a current photo ID through the state.
HB 1631, to “include” voters without photo ID, currently has a provision that allows them to vote after “executing [an affidavit] a statement, under penalty of perjury” attesting to their identity. To circumvent comparisons to a poll tax, the bill language says the state will pay for all of the underlying documents for photo ID. It does not say it will pay for a voter’s time, travel, housing, or food to obtain these documents. More egregiously, it does not explicitly lay out mechanisms for fulfilling this process.
Missouri elected officials are insisting that this policy does not disproportionately impact any Missourian, despite the repeated testimony of the AARP, NAACP, Empower Missouri, Communications Workers of America, Missouri Faith Voices, the League of Women Voters, Missouri National Education Association, and the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
In a way, they aren’t wrong. The legislation is surprisingly egalitarian in oppressive application. The requirement to have a current, state-issued photo identification leaves out: women who have changed their last names, minorities who disproportionately do not have access to photo IDs or offices, seniors who don’t have non-expired photo ID, trans* folks whose gender is medicalized before they can change their licenses, students whose only state ID is their student identification, low income folks, and disabled voters.
Why does this matter to the Asian Americans Pacific Islanders and Desis (AAPID) community?
Simply, because we can’t afford to not care about attacks on anyone’s voting rights.
The AAPID community is one of the largest growing communities in the country. We may not be hyper visible in purple states like Missouri yet, but we have notable communities in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia. Any attack on minority voters is an attack on us, and accepting the status quo is to enable political oppression.
The AAPID community has been fighting for the rights afforded by citizenship for over a century. The famous 1898 case, US vs. Wong Kim Ark, forced the Supreme Court to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to safeguard birthright citizenship for children of immigrants, regardless of their parents’ citizenship. Yet, after the Ark ruling, AAPID Americans were denied access to voting rights. We have the Civil Rights Movement and resulting 1965 Voting Rights Act to thank for protection under the law now.
Our communities still face massive hurdles to voting. Although legally required, translation support for non-native English speakers is still largely unavailable at the polls, especially in homogenous places like Missouri. Also, voter purges targeting people with the same name routinely occur that disproportionately impact voters of color. The last thing we need is Missouri passing Amendment 6 and other states following suit to push a solution to a non-existent problem.
Oddly enough, those who like this bill have alluded that the legislation isn’t what it seems. During House Elections Committee testimony on HJR 53 and the enabling legislation, HB 1631, Rep. Bill Kidd (R-20) let it slip that photo ID legislation might disenfranchise voters, saying “That’s absolutely not the intent at all. It may be an unintended consequence, but it’s not the intent.”
According to House and Senate debate, the few cases of voter fraud nationwide are worth making it more difficult for 220,000 eligible Missourians to vote.