A Republican lawmaker in Missouri denied that his bill to require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote also contains a provision that would prevent military members stationed outside the state to vote by absentee ballot.
House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, a Republican candidate for Missouri secretary of state, said a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, posted on STLToday.com, wrongly summarized portions of the bill, currently pending in the Republican-controlled Missouri House. The bill contains a requirement to show a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship to register to vote and promotes use of photo identification for absentee ballot applications. Schoeller said he is not trying to stop people from voting.
"Clearly the St. Louis Post Dispatch did not read the bill," Schoeller told HuffPost. "There is no intention to deny people the ability to mail in a ballot. They are going to give us time to respond on Tuesday to correct the record."
The editorial has sparked sharp criticism from Democrats and a national veterans political group.
"We wholeheartedly oppose your legislation (House Bill 2109) that would restrict the voting rights of troops who are deployed or stationed overseas, by limiting their ability to vote via absentee ballot," Jon Soltz, the chairman of VoteVets.org, wrote to Schoeller. "We feel that the idea that you would deliberately inhibit our service members from exercising the very freedoms they fight for is offensive, un-American, and wrong."
Soltz wrote in his letter that 11,000 military members voted absentee in 2008 and noted that on Schoeller's campaign website he said one of his goals is to support military voting. Missouri's secretary of state is the state's chief elections officer.
The leading Democrat in the secretary of state race, state Rep. Jason Kander, also opposes the proposal.
"Every eligible voter deserves the opportunity to participate in our democracy, but none more so than those that fight to protect it," said Kander, an Afghanistan War veteran. "At a time when we should be making it easier for military men and women abroad to vote, Speaker Schoeller's bill would make it next to impossible."
Schoeller's proposal calls for photo identification to be used when requesting an absentee ballot or for a copy of a photo ID to be mailed with a ballot. He said this would allow for a crackdown on fraud, which he said has occurred in other states. While Schoeller has said he has not seen any documented cases of such fraud in Missouri, he is concerned that if voter identification laws are put into place in the state for in-person voting, there will be a surge in absentee ballot fraud.
The legislation contains provisions to allow troops in combat zones to fax or email ballots to Missouri officials. It also notes that troops can use any type of envelope to mail in a ballot.
Schoeller said the proof of citizenship clause makes sure that only citizens are registering to vote. Under the bill, voters would need to bring a birth certificate or another document to prove citizenship. State and local election officials would need to verify the documents.
"Colorado did this recently and they had 11,000 illegal aliens in the state and 4,000 registered to vote," Schoeller said. "You may have someone here legally, but a citizen who has the right to vote."
Schoeller said the birth certificate requirement has nothing to do with unfounded claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. The Missouri House last week passed a bill requiring presidential candidates to produce a birth certificate to the Missouri secretary of state. Schoeller said he supports that bill, but believes Obama was born in the U.S.