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Government, Politics & Issues

Secretary Ashcroft pushes public awareness for new voter ID law

Three men stand at a podium with microphones at St. Louis City Hall.
Joseph Leahy | St. Louis Public Radio
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft kicked off the ShowIt2Vote media campaign at St. Louis City Hall on Monday with Rep. Bruce Franks (center) Rep. Justin Alferman.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft kicked off a media campaign in the marbled rotunda of St. Louis City Hall on Monday to inform the public about Missouri's new voter ID law, which takes effect June 1.

The law that voters gave legislators the constitutional authority to enact in November will require any voter who can’t show a valid photo ID to either provide supplemental documents and their signature or cast a provisional ballot. The first election to be affected takes place Aug. 8.

Ashcroft, a Republican, says the campaign is to ensure that all eligible voters know the various ways they will be legally allowed to cast a ballot. The effort is also required by a provision of the law stating the Secretary of State’s office must “provide advance notice of the personal identification requirements” to inform the public about the changes. “Such advance notice shall include at a minimum, the use of advertisements and public service announcements in print, broadcast television media,” reads the law (section 115.427).

To pay for the campaign, Ashcroft’s office is requesting $1.4 million in the state’s FY2018 budget, although, even if allocated, the amount is unlikely to be enough for statewide television advertisements. Still, Ashcroft says Missouri's law is a model for other states because it requires efforts to inform the public and contains provisions that allow voting even without a photo ID.

"... if all you have on is a bathing suit and you don't have your wallet or purse with you. You will be allowed to vote ..."

“This law was written to make sure that people are not disenfranchised. If people are disenfranchised, it’s because they’ve been misled about this law,” said Ashcroft addressing concerns raised by critics in many states with similar laws that such requirements suppress voting among poor and minority communities that traditionally vote for Democrats.

“... if all you have on is a bathing suit and you don’t have your wallet or purse with you, you will be allowed to vote,” said Ashcroft, stressing that the anyone who has registered will be allowed to vote through one of three methods:

1. show a valid photo ID such as a driver's license or passport;
2. sign a sworn statement and provide corroborating documents like a utility bill, paycheck, or bank statement; or
3. vote with a provisional ballot that would be verified by a matching signature on the voter registry or by submitting a valid ID at a later time.

Ashcroft said the new requirements are meant to address voter impersonation, citing an example in Kansas City where a woman couldn’t vote because someone had already used her name at a polling station. He said, given the nature of the crime, it’s difficult to determine how widespread voter fraud in Missouri actually is and therefore he could not provide a clear picture of whether it was actually a problem.  Nor could he say, in general, how many voters the new ID requirements will directly impact on election day.

Ashcroft did, however, acknowledge there is a danger that misconceptions about the new rules could thwart valid voters who don’t even try to vote because they believe they don’t have the proper identification.

“It’s because people have told them they wouldn’t be able to vote,” said Ashcroft adding that his office has begun meeting with local election officials to bring them up to speed on the changes. >Joining Ashcroft to launch the ShowIt2Vote campaign Monday, were the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Justin Alferman, R – Hermann, and state Rep. Bruce Franks, D – St. Louis, an outspoken opponent of the measure.

“This a great solution for a problem that we don’t have,” Franks said.

Throughout the news conference, Franks maintained the new law will suppress voting among citizens of his St. Louis’ 78th House District and explained his participation in the Secretary of State’s media campaign was to try mitigating the effects of the law.  

“This [law] will disenfranchise, but the reason ... I am here is to make sure that it doesn’t. I’m here to educate and empower. And I think it’s very important that we come together to make sure that we don’t disenfranchise [voters],” he said, adding that if the Secretary of State’s efforts fail to ensure a fair voting process, he is prepared to tap his activist constituency in holding the state accountable.

Republican-led states around the country have instituted voter ID laws in the past several years in an effort to prevent voter fraud, despite a lack of widespread evidence of that happening. In North Carolina, a federal appeals court ruled in July that the state’s voter ID law was unconstitutional; North Carolina Democratic leaders want the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss Republicans’ attempts to restore the law.

Texas’ 2011 law is seen as one of the more strict ones in the U.S., so much so that the Obama administration alleged there was intent and effect to discriminate against minorities. But the Trump administration said late last month that it would no longer argue the measure was purposefully keeping minority voters from exercising their rights because state lawmakers are looking to revise the law.


And in Kansas, a civil rights advisory panel has recommended the federal government look into whether the state’s 2011 voter ID law, which includes a proof-of-citizenship requirement, violates federal laws.


Correction: Missouri's new voter ID law was passed by the state legislature. Voters in November approved an amendment to the state constitution giving lawmakers the authority to enact the law.  


Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @joemikeleahy

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