Don't put Missouri seniors' right to vote at risk

Friday, February 24, 2006

By Robin Carnahan

The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. Over the course of our nation's history, brave men and women have fought and died for the right to cast their ballot in free and fair elections. And, as Missouri's chief elections official, I work hard to protect the integrity of our state's elections and to make sure every citizen has the right to vote.

As secretary of state, it is my goal is to make it easier for eligible Missourians to vote and harder for anyone to cheat. To achieve that goal, I believe it is common sense for people to have to identify themselves when they vote. And in Missouri, we do just that. Voters are already required to identify themselves at the polls with a driver's license for those who have it, a voter registration card, a university ID and other forms of identification before being handed a ballot. In fact, Missouri already has one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country.

Despite that, a bill was recently introduced in the Missouri Legislature that would add another layer to Missouri's identification requirements by requiring a photo ID, or a license to vote. I believe requiring this voting license is unnecessary and unwise. Taking such a step could get in the way of many Missourians' right to vote, especially that of seniors and those with disabilities.

For many Missourians, using a driver's license with a photo would not be a burden. We're used to pulling out our driver's license when we cash a check or get on an airplane. But, there are almost 200,000 Missourians of voting age who do not have a state-issued photo ID such as driver's or state-issued photo ID card. To put that in perspective, that's more people than the population of Springfield, Mo. It's larger than Boone County, Mo. And, in fact, that is larger than any single state senatorial district.

Who would be affected by this new requirement to show a photo ID before voting? Without a doubt, the burden would fall on Missouri seniors and those with disabilities who do not drive or no longer have a valid driver's license.

For example, if this bill is passed, it would require an 85-year-old senior citizen who no longer has a valid driver's license but has voted all her life to: 1. locate her birth certificate and other required proof of citizenship and residency for the new photo ID requirement, 2. get certified copies of those documents, 3. find someone to take her from her home (assuming it is medically safe to leave) and 4. wait in line at a license office (perhaps with her wheelchair and pulling an oxygen tank) just to get a photo ID in order to avoid losing her constitutional right to vote.

It is wrong to put up unreasonable barriers to our Missouri seniors' right to vote, and this proposal does just that.

This proposal could also affect countless Missourians, ranging from farmers coming in from the field to seniors and others who have lived in the same community their entire lives, by removing an often-used clause in our state's election law that lets a person vote if two election judges personally recognize them. Under this bill, even if a person may have voted at the same local VFW hall or elementary school for 40 years, their friends and neighbors who serve as election judges would be forced to deny them their right to vote merely because they didn't show up with their driver's license. And if these election judges don't deny them their right to vote, the election judges will be breaking the law.

If we're looking to improve our elections system, we should use common-sense solutions that address real problems without getting in the way of anyone's right to vote. So far, the proponents of this measure haven't been able to show any evidence that requiring a photo ID to vote will improve our election system. And, requiring a license to vote will undoubtedly end up keeping many Missourians, mostly seniors and those with disabilities, from being able to cast their ballot on Election Day.

The right to vote is guaranteed in the Constitution, and putting up obstacles for people to vote fails to live up to our nation's democratic principles.

Robin Carnahan is Missouri's secretary of state.

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