Last week, the United States Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. This week, that new law garnered national attention when 12 elderly nuns were prevented from voting because they did not have the required government-issued ID.
This is the predictable result of a flawed law. We've been facing the same battle in my home state of Missouri. In fact, in 2006 our state Supreme Court struck down a similar law as unconstitutional. But now, the debate over whether to require government-issued ID's in order to vote is back.
This week, as the Missouri House of Representatives began its debate on this voter suppression legislation, I spoke to Sister Sandy Schwartz of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary the Angel. After she heard the story about the Indiana incident, she did a quick survey of the 35 nuns in her convent and found that 15 did not have a government-issued photo ID to vote -- therefore, no right to vote.
Another Missourian, Birdie Owen had a different story. Birdie relocated to Missouri after Hurricane Katrina and still uses her Louisiana ID. That's because she can't get a Missouri photo ID.
Why? Because her birth certificate was lost in the hurricane. And because a birth certificate is one of the documents required in order to get a Missouri photo ID, without one, no government-issued ID... therefore, no right to vote.
Another affected citizen is Kathleen Weinschenk. Kathy has cerebral palsy and because of her disability is unable to make a consistent signature or mark - so her signature might not match the signature on her voter registration record required by the Missouri law...therefore, no right to vote.
As Missouri's Secretary of State, it's my job to help ensure that our elections are fair, free and accurate. But it is also my job to protect the voting rights of every citizen. Not, 95% of our citizens. Not, just Missourians who have a drivers license or a passport.
Elections cannot be fair, free and accurate if eligible voters are not allowed to vote.
Across our country in recent years we've seen a disturbing trend. States have begun debating and passing restrictive laws allowing only those voters who can prove their identity by means of government-issued photo identification to vote.
I support the idea of voters identifying themselves at the polls. That's common sense. In Missouri, we ALREADY do just that.
So what is this debate all about? It's about whether we should only allow those Missourians with a certain kind of GOVERNMENT ISSUED photo ID to vote.
For most Missourians - and most Americans -- presenting a government ID is not a burden, most of us have a drivers license and we carry it with us all the time.
But for those citizens who don't have a drivers license or other government-issued ID, but nevertheless are legitimate, registered voters, it can be a great burden indeed.
My office has calculated how many Missouri voters risk being disenfranchised by this law. Our estimate, after comparing the state drivers and non-drivers license list with the list of registered voters, is that up to 240,000 Missourians could be impacted.
A new restrictive voting law would impact mostly the elderly, the disabled, the poor or even young people who may be 18 registered to vote but not yet drive.
The recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Indiana's restrictive voter identification law now puts the idea of fair and free elections in jeopardy.
Let me give a couple more examples:
If you are married woman whose name has changed and you want to get a government-issued ID to vote, you need to bring your marriage license. If you lost that marriage license, it will cost you time and money to get a new copy. If you are divorced and remarried, you better bring along a copy of your divorce decree.
If you were born out of state and you want to get a Missouri government issued ID to vote you will need to write a letter to that state and ask for a certified copy of your birth certificate. It may cost you up to $30.00 to get a copy.
But in many states you'll face yet another problem...you are required to show a photo ID before they will provide a copy of your birth certificate.
In the case of Birdie, a natural disaster washed away all the bureaucratic documents required in order to get a government-issued photo ID. Tornadoes, floods and hurricanes shouldn't be cause for eligible citizens to lose their right to vote in this country.
If you lost your social security card, and you want to vote, you better make a trip to the social security office. You will also need to remember to bring along a copy of your birth certificate.
Supporters of these restrictive government ID laws falsely claim that because the state will provide "free" photo ID's to those who need them there is no hardship. But what the supporters of these laws fail to mention is that no government issued ID is really free.
As Missouri's Secretary of State, I will continue to fight for free, fair and accurate elections that allows all eligible Missourians to participate in the political process. But across the country, people need to know the real story and the real impact of these laws. Quite simply, they are undermining our democracy.