From The New York Times:
Missouri is the latest front in the Republican Party’s campaign to use photo ID requirements to suppress voting. The Republican legislators who pushed through Missouri’s ID law earlier this year said they wanted to deter fraud, but that claim falls apart on close inspection. Missouri’s new ID rules — and similar ones adopted last year in Indiana and Georgia — are intended to deter voting by blacks, poor people and other groups that are less likely to have driver’s licenses. Georgia’s law has been blocked by the courts, and the others should be too.
Even before Missouri passed its new law, it had tougher ID requirements than many states. Voters were required, with limited exceptions, to bring ID with them to the polls, but university ID cards, bank statements mailed to a voter’s address, and similar documents were acceptable. The new law requires a government-issued photo ID, which as many as 200,000 Missourians do not have.
Missourians who have driver’s licenses will have little trouble voting, but many who do not will have to go to considerable trouble to get special ID’s. The supporting documents needed to get these, like birth certificates, often have fees attached, so some Missourians will have to pay to keep voting. It is likely that many people will not jump all of the bureaucratic hurdles to get the special ID, and will become ineligible to vote.
Not coincidentally, groups that are more likely to vote against the Republicans who passed the ID law will be most disadvantaged. Advocates for blacks, the elderly and the disabled say that those groups are less likely than the average Missourian to have driver’s licenses, and most likely to lose their right to vote. In close elections, like the bitterly contested U.S. Senate race now under way in the state, this disenfranchisement could easily make the difference in who wins.
The new law’s supporters say its purpose is to deter fraud. But there is little evidence of “imposter voting,” the sort of fraud that ID laws are aimed at, in Missouri or anywhere else. Groups in Missouri that want to suppress voting have a long history of crying fraud, but investigations by the Justice Department and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others, have refuted such claims in the past. If the Legislature really wanted to deter fraud, it would have focused its efforts on absentee ballots, which are a notorious source of election fraud — and are not covered by Missouri’s new ID requirements.
Because of the important constitutional issues these laws raise, courts will have the final say. Federal and state judges have already blocked Georgia’s ID law from taking effect, and although Indiana’s law was upheld earlier this year, that ruling is on appeal. Missouri voting-rights advocates recently filed suit against their state’s law.
Unduly onerous voter ID laws violate equal protection, and when voters have to pay to get the ID’s, they are an illegal poll tax. They are also an insult to democracy, because their goal is to have elections in which eligible voters are turned away.