I’ve been amused by the not inconsiderable number of individuals who sanctimoniously point out that if people in places like Ferguson, say, don’t like what’s going on in local government, or if they have a problem with the makeup of that government, then all they need to do is trot off to the polls and vote. Take, for instance, this letter printed in a recent edtion of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
You want change? Prove it. Those signs people are carrying that say “Black Lives Matter” should be saying “Black Votes Matter.” Marching in the streets may get some attention short term, but where you can really make a difference is on Election Day by marching into the voting booths and casting a ballot for people who can address your concerns. March into the county Board of Elections and register to vote. March into the town hall meetings, the school board meetings, the state legislature and tell your stories. Because these officials have to know how their actions affect you personally. And if their actions show they aren’t listening, then vote them out. Run for office, get involved, pay attention.
Although I don’t think protests vs. votes is an either/or situation – in this case, we probably need both – the writer is, of course, right on a basic level. We get the government we deserve. When large majorities of the citizens of Missouri – and I’m not necessarily talking about “those people” singled out by the letter writer above – failed to turn out to vote in 2014, the result has been legislators like those currently in Jefferson City who seem hell-bent on trashing the state as fast as they can.
But there’s a bigger story here than the one about apathetic voters. There are a number of socioeconomic factors that influence whether people vote and how they vote. And it’s this last fact that gets us to a whole other open can of worms. There are those who have noticed that who people are, their race, economic status, gender and age, corresponds to their partisan leanings. Lots of those people are Republican politicians or the people who give them money. The result has been a growing effort to keep the wrong people, who often tend to be “those people,” from voting. And it’s happening right here in Missouri. As Rebecca Rivas at the St. Louis American reports:
Just as many are stepping out of the movie theaters with images of the 1965 March on Selma fresh in their minds, Missouri state legislators are hearing about proposed Voter ID laws.
“On the anniversary of the March on Selma, the fight for voter rights have [sic] been exposed and celebrated,” said state Rep. Stacey Newman (D-87). “But they’ve also taught us that this never ends.”
On Tuesday, January 27, the Missouri House of Representative’s election committee listened to community members and experts testify about two voter identification bills, introduced by state Rep. Tony Dugger (R-141). The bill HB 30 would requires voters to show a “valid government-issued photo ID” at the polls, with some exemptions. Dugger is also proposing the bill HJR 1, which would amend the constitution to require voters to have government-issued photo IDs.
Voter ID laws have been criticized and found unconstitutional because they disproportionately impact people who don’t often have state-issued IDs – often people of color, people with disabilities, seniors and young voters.
In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down Missouri’s Voter ID law. According to the court opinion, the Secretary of State’s analysis in August 2006 estimated that approximately 240,000 registered voters in the state may not have the required photo ID.
Rep. Dugger offers a comically unlikely hypothetical concerning possible voter fraud to justify his (likely ALEC inspired) obsession with the photo ID project that he has repeatedly tried to enact:
Missouri’s Voter Rolls are severely inflated due to various reasons,” Dugger said. “There are 15 counties in Missouri with 95% or more of their eligible voters registered to vote,” said Dugger. “One county, Reynolds County, actually has more registered voters than eligible voters. With that problem out there, the potential for fraud is quite prevalent. There is no verifiable way to ensure that a voter voting on Election Day is who they say they are without some sort of a photo ID requirement.”
You really think that some sinister somebody is going to go through the rolls, figure out who doesn’t belong there, and then send ringers to impersonate them? Lots of effort for very little return, I’d say. Photo IDs only prevent this type of in-person voter fraud, and as reported in The Washington Post:
A new nationwide analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years shows that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which has prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter ID laws, was virtually nonexistent.
But Photo ID laws do pose an often insurmountable barrier to voting:
Since 2008, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.
The irony should not be lost on anyone that we are hearing so many disapproving sounds about the failure of “those people” in Ferguson to turn out and vote rather than rampaging in the street, while at the same time our GOP lawmakers are trying their hardest to keep them from the polls.