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Missouri Democrats highlight plan to educate voters on photo ID law
ST. LOUIS -- Missouri Democratic leaders unveiled a new plan Thursday to educate low-income and disabled voters on ways to get proper photo identification so they can vote in November's election.
The plan comes in response to a new law signed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in June requiring all voters to present a federal- or Missouri-issued photo ID, starting in November.
"I think it's appalling. It's very simply voter suppression," former Missouri governor Roger Wilson said at a news conference Thursday.
Wilson accused Republicans of passing the law this year to help U.S. Sen. Jim Talent in a tight race against Democratic Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
"It's pretty simply a Jim Talent protection act, trying to limit the number of voters that can be counted," said Wilson, who is chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.
Missouri Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca said the law wasn't designed to disenfranchise voters. He said it aims to cut down on voter fraud.
"If anything, this is going to ensure that voters are going to have confidence in the process," Sloca said.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan estimates at least 200,000 voters do not have the proper ID to vote, said spokeswoman Stacie Temple. So far, fewer than 1,000 voters have been issued proper ID by the state to comply with the law, Temple said.
To boost that number, the state Democratic Party's plan includes three initiatives. The party launched a toll-free hot line to answer voter questions and will include information about the law on its Web site.
On Sept. 9, the party will launch a statewide door-to-door campaign to inform voters about the new law and help them comply with it.
Sloca said he supported the Democratic effort.
"It's good that they're finally getting on board after opposing this bill for so long," Sloca said.
Opponents of the law filed a lawsuit last week in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City seeking to get it overturned. The plaintiffs say the law violates voter protections laid out in the Missouri Constitution.
Other states also are having battles over voter ID requirements as November's midterm elections approach.
Georgia law blocked
Federal and state courts recently blocked enforcement of a Georgia law requiring voters to show a photo ID. In Indiana, a federal judge ruled in April that the state's photo ID law could stand because Democrats failed to show it was too burdensome. That decision is under appeal.
Wilson said Missouri Democrats want the voter ID law to be overturned in court. But if the legal challenge fails, the party wants as many voters to have an ID as possible.
The Missouri law requires voters to show approved forms of photo ID to be eligible to vote, such as a U.S. passport or valid state driver's license. Missouri residents who don't have acceptable identification can get a free ID card from the local license office, though they must show proof of identity.
The Missouri Department of Revenue also is issuing free IDs to voters.
Carnahan said last month an estimated 200,000 voting-age Missourians lack adequate IDs. Her office will spend about $3.5 million to spread the word, targeting those most likely to lack IDs -- minorities, the poor and the elderly -- with direct mailings.
Temple said there have been no documented cases in Missouri of voter fraud through identity misrepresentation. She said most cases of fraud occur in voter registration.
Carnahan launched a public awareness campaign in July that also will include statewide media and public service announcements and a special Web site and toll-free telephone help line.
Helping elderly, disabled
The Department of Revenue is planning trips around the state to help the elderly and disabled obtain identification cards to vote.
Wilson said it often costs money to get the documents needed to obtain a photo ID, and for some there are other hidden costs, such as time off work or bus fare to reach a license office.
He said the wait for a birth certificate in Missouri can range from two weeks to six months, depending on how much other documentation a voter already has.
Earlier this month, elected officials in St. Louis and Kansas City filed a separate lawsuit seeking to stop the law from being implemented, claiming it violates the Missouri Constitution by not providing state money to local governments for their extra expenses to implement the ID requirement.
On the Net: www.MoVoterID.com
Help line: 1-888-488-VOTE (8683)
Democratic Party Hot line: 1-888-99-VOTER (86837)