The Secretary of State officiates at the opening of the legislative session for the seating of the new House until the members of the body select their temporary Speaker. Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) took the opportunity to address voter suppression.
Secretary of State Jason Kander (D): I want to start by thanking all of you for putting yourselves out there to serve your local communities and our state. It is an awesome responsibility that I know you don’t take lightly. So thank you on behalf of Missourians for stepping up to do this job. We’re all counting on you to make our great state even better.
I am going to be brief today because I’m pretty sure the majority of you aren’t going to like what I have to say. But Missourians did vote to give me a four year term to serve as our state’s chief election official, so I want to use one of my last days in office to make a point.
To my friends in the minority party, I apologize in advance but I’m going to be talking mainly to the majority party. Obviously this November Missourians voted to turn over our state government – just as they did at the national level. Now, both here and in Washington, in all likelihood my Republican friends will have four years to shape the state and the nation how they wish.
As a Missouri voter, I’d ask you not to overstep when it comes to voting rights. Missourians might have voted to allow voter photo identification requirements, but that doesn’t mean they want it to be harder for eligible voters who have been legally voting for years to cast a ballot. Last year, when you passed a photo ID bill over my objection and over the Governor’s veto, you made a deal with Democratic legislators. They ended their filibuster and, in exchange, you included some of their provisions meant to at least limit the number of eligible voters the new law might disenfranchise.
Since making that deal, many of you have made public statements saying that the bill didn’t go far enough, and that you plan to revisit this issue in the future. Today is the first day of session, the new law hasn’t even taken effect, and yet some of you are already posturing to go back on your word and put forward brand new ways to make it harder for some Missourians to vote.
Before you go even further down this path, I hope you’ll keep in mind what happened when more extreme proposals were adopted in other states.
What these laws across the country mandate is that eligible voters have to get a specific ID that they don’t need for anything else just so they can vote. In America, we call that a poll tax. And just because of the time or the money or the impossibility of complying with that. And as a result not having maybe a birth certificate that they would need to comply with it. Doing that now is no less wrong than it was a half a century ago
After Wisconsin implemented a bill like that, turned it into a law, the voter turnout this past November was the lowest that they have had in twenty years. Election officials there say that it was the lowest in the highest poverty areas and they attribute it to the fact that that’s where people have the hardest problem affording the documents or getting the ability to be able to actually vote by getting that identification . And there were countless heartbreaking stories of people all over the state who were denied the opportunity to vote because of the new law.
In North Carolina an eighty-six year old woman went to the DMV to get an ID that she didn’t need. But she was going to need it if she was going to vote, so she set out to get it. She was turned away from the DMV because she couldn’t prove her maiden name. I think about the thousands of people who didn’t even get as far as she got, who didn’t bother to attempt it, because they knew all the obstacles that were out in front of them.
We’ve actually already had this debate in America. American heroes faced down batons, and dogs, and fire hoses to march across a bridge in Selma. [applause] Both here and on foreign shores, Americans of every color have given their lives for the simple idea that we all count and that all of us get to vote.
Now, you may not think that that’s important and if you don’t, you should at least know this. That in my four years as the Secretary of State of Missouri that there’s never been a case of voter impersonation fraud. And in my predecessor’s eight years, there was never a case. And in her predecessor’s four years, there was never a case. I could keep going, but I will give you the short version – and the short version is this – that there has never been a case of voter impersonation fraud in the history of the State of Missouri. Ever. That is the only form of voter fraud that a photo ID requirement can even pretend to prevent. I know that there are people who say otherwise, that it would deal with other forms of fraud, but we know that that’s true.
I know many of you personally. I know that you did not come here to try and restrict the rights of your constituents to vote. And the majority party in this chamber won a Senate seat, the Governor’s mansion, the Lieutenant Governor’s office, Secretary of State, Treasurer and Attorney General under the current system – clearly it ain’t working out that badly for you. [applause] You can applaud yourselves, I don’t care. Go ahead. It’s all right. The system’s working out for you. So , I would just say to you, even though you have the power to restrict the rights of your constituents of the State of Missouri to vote that I hope you be careful about it. Because you can go so far that your friends and family, that your neighbors, that your constituents in your districts could end up being denied the opportunity to vote.
I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in the last four years in my office as Secretary of State. And I’m proud that we were able to move early voting ahead to a point where a Republican member of this body, the Vice-chair of the Elections Committee filed it as a bill. I’m proud of the fact that in our office we worked to make it so that for first time Missourian’s can register to vote using an online form. I’m proud of the work that we did with you, with the state legislature, to make it so that participants in the Safe at Home program could vote absentee. Every single one of those changes, they made it easier to vote but none of them made elections less secure. So, the fact is, that you can pursue proposals like.
And I’m not here saying that there are no problems in elections. Clearly they are not perfect and there are problems. That’s why I created the first formal process in our state’s history to review and investigate election offenses and voting issues And I investigated, did more investigations than any Secretary of State in Missouri history, and I did all of it without disenfranchising a single eligible voter. You can protect the integrity of our elections without stopping anyone from from voting.
I’m not, I’m gonna let you get back now to today’s opening ceremonies because I know I’m not who you came to hear and I know that none of this was what you wanted to hear. But I am your Secretary of State for a bit little longer, and as a result I feel a responsibility to tell you that even though you have the power to take away the right to vote from the citizens of Missouri, you that shouldn’t.
And that if you choose to follow the example of Wisconsin or North Carolina, well then, I guess we’ll see you in court. [applause]
[compiled from audio and the remarks as prepared]
These remarks did not go over well with the republican majority. So poorly, in fact, that the ceremonial House resolution thanking the Secretary of State was not put forward for a vote:
Expresses appreciation for the Secretary of State
Sponsor: Cierpiot, Mike (030)
Proposed Effective Date: 8/28/2017
LR Number: 1132H.01I
Bill String: HR 5
Next Hearing: Hearing not scheduled
Calendar: Bill currently not on a House calendar
So much for comity.
At the majority press conference in the House Lounge after the day’s adjournment:
Question: Secretary Kander, uh, raised some [cross talk] some concerns.
Speaker Todd Richardson (r): I’m shocked this is the first question. [laughter]
Question: Worth asking. Secretary Kander brought up some concerns that, uh, some members of your caucus might try to, uh, add in additional provisions to this state’s voter ID law. Uh, is that going anywhere under your leadership?
Speaker Todd Richardson (r): I think we worked very hard to get that law passed last year and we’re gonna be happy to work with Secretary Ashcroft to make sure that that law gets implemented fairly. I think the characterization that Secretary Kander had of this disenfranchising voters is part of the same line of misrepresentation of what voter ID is about that we’ve heard my entire time in the General Assembly. So, uh, we’re gonna continue to try to pass, uh, legislation that insures fair, uh, elections, but we’re not gonna do so in a way that disenfranchises voters.
Question: Can you tell us what happened to House Resolution 5?
Speaker Todd Richardson (r): House Resolution 5. Is, uh, could ask the Majority Floor Leader, who’s standing next to me, probably prefer that I answer the question for him. [laughter]
Uh, but we did not take up House Resolution 5.
Question: Was there a reason why you did not take up House Resolution 5? [laughter]
Speaker Todd Richardson (r): I have a, I have a great deal of respect for Secretary Kander. I served with him here in the Missouri House. Uh, but I think there is a, a time and a place, uh, for that kind of, of discussion. And I think the Secretary’s bringing that issue up, particularly the way he did during the session today was probably beyond, um, the responsibility of the Secretary of State.
Translation: he rained on our self congratulatory parade with his words of truth.