After a solid year of elections deciding everything from whether to build a conference center at Mozingo Lake Recreation Park to who gets to live in the White House, a lot of Nodaway countians are likely undergoing voting-booth exhaustion.
Local voters have been asked to show up at the polls a total of five times over the past 13 months, beginning with last March’s presidential preference primary and continuing through the April 2016 municipal election, August 2016 primary election, November 2016 general election and this week’s 2017 municipal election.
The good news is that unless someone drums up an issue for the slotted Aug. 8 or Nov. 7 election dates, no one in these parts will even have to look at a ballot until sometime in the spring of 2018.
The bad news, of sorts, is that if you don’t have a Missouri driver’s license, a state-issued “nondriver” license, a passport, or some other form of government-issued photo identification you — well — you’ll be able to vote in the next election anyway.
Missouri’s newly minted photo voter ID law goes into effect June 1. The measure was passed by the Legislature last fall over former Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and ratified in November’s general election by a solid majority of voters who favored a state constitutional amendment allowing the law to take effect.
The amendment was necessary because, in 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a photo voter ID requirement laid a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
But the people have spoken, and burden or no burden photo voter ID is here, sort of — meaning that it’s here for registered voters who show up at the polls on election day.
But a significant percentage of Nodaway County voters, those who vote absentee either by having a ballot mailed to their home or in person at the County Administration Center prior to Election Day, are exempt from photo ID requirements.
Both County Clerk Karen Leader and Maura Browning, a spokesperson for Missouri Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft, confirmed this week that absentee voters are not subject to the new mandate.
“Nothing has changed for them,” Leader said. “It’s exactly the same.”
Meaning, as always, citizens voting absentee simply send in a ballot application listing their name, address, signature, date of birth, and the last four digits of their social security number so that a ballot can be mailed to them.
Absentees can also vote early and in person at the County Administration Center after showing an acceptable form of ID, which can include a county clerk-issued voter registration card, utility bill or other non-photo document verifying the citizen’s name and address.
In this week’s municipal election, a total of 2,396 people voted countywide. Of those, 169 — about 7 percent — cast absentee ballots.
The new photo ID law is likely to have a limited impact across rural northwest Missouri, where the vast majority of people over 18 have driver’s licenses. However, there are pockets of voters — elderly folks who no longer drive and college students, for example — who often don’t have permits.
Some newly married women will be affected as well, since the law requires voters to obtain new documentation after a name change.
As for students, the photo IDs issued by almost all institutions of higher learning, including Northwest Missouri State University, don’t count for voting purposes.
Unless voting absentee, or in possession of a passport or military ID, people without a valid, up-to-date driver’s license have three options: taking a driver’s test and getting a license, presenting the documents required for issuance of a nondriver license at their local license bureau, or casting a “provisional ballot” on Election Day.
Voters casting provisional ballots must sign a statement attesting to their identity under penalty of perjury. Election officials are then supposed to check the signature against the signature placed on file when the voter registered. If the signatures match, the ballot is counted.
The provisional ballot statement is to contain an advisory informing voters that they are required to apply for a government-issued photo identification, which is to be supplied at no cost. Provisional voters will also be informed of the state’s obligation to cover the cost of any documents required before a nondriver ID can be issued.
In order to receive a nondriver ID, citizens must submit one of each of the following: proof of name and date and place and birth (government birth certificate, U.S. passport, Certificate of Citizenship, military identification card, or military discharge papers); Social Security number (verbally or by presenting card); and proof of address (utility bill, paycheck, government check, mortgage document, voter identification card, property tax receipt, housing rental contract or bank statement).
In confirming that the law does not apply to absentees, Browning emphasized that, as interpreted by the secretary of state’s office, the law will not prevent a registered voter who is without a recognized photo ID from casting a ballot in the next election.
“If you’re registered to vote, you can vote,” Browning said.
However, Dan Smith, an attorney and Northwest assistant professor who teaches courses on constitutional law and civil liberties, said that as a practical matter the law creates subtle barriers that could keep certain groups of voters from casting ballots or having their ballots counted.
Smith added that, in his opinion, those groups happen to contain a lot of citizens who often vote democratic, including the elderly, minorities, students, and people with lower incomes and limited economic opportunities.
“The purpose of the law is to make it just a little harder for groups most likely to vote democratic to vote,” Smith said, “though of course nobody is going to admit that.”
He added that if the intent of the law is really to decrease voter fraud, it would apply specifically to absentee voters, since it’s much easier for absentees voting from home to misrepresent themselves.
Smith further claimed that the number of at-the-polls voter fraud attempts in Missouri “is so miniscule as to be non-existent.”
Questionable absentee ballots have proved to be another matter.
During last year’s photo ID debate, Republican lawmakers arguing in favor of the bill repeatedly referred to a contested St. Louis House seat that resulted in a judge ordering a new election after problems surfaced with regard to the integrity of absentee votes.