Despite what election officials and lawmakers across the state heralded as a secure and successful 2020 election, voters in Missouri could soon be subject to new photo ID and other voting requirements as part of Republicans’ push for what they call “election integrity.”
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, helped craft the more restrictive bill, which awaits a potential signature from Gov. Mike Parson. The nearly 60-page bill touches on many parts of election administration, from touch-screen ballots to a person’s ability to register voters.
Parson has yet to sign the bill, and voting rights groups across the state are asking him not to, mostly citing concerns about the voter identification provision. If Parson signs the bill, its provisions would take effect in November. Requirements for the state’s August primary would not change.
“Election integrity” was seen as a top priority for many Republicans this session. Lawmakers filed a hodgepodge of bills, many of them inspired by unfounded conspiracies about the 2020 election, such as voter fraud via mail-in ballots or ballots being cast for dead people.
Eventually many of the changes found their way into HB 1878, sponsored by Rep. John Simmons of Franklin County, which made its way to the governor.
The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition said the bill would make it harder for Missourians to vote.
HB 1878, which passed the House 97-47, imposes “unnecessary, unconstitutional, and burdensome voting restrictions that undermine Missourians’ right to vote and undermine free and fair elections in Missouri,” according to the group.
Another attempt at photo ID for voting
Under the bill, Missourians would be required to present a government-issued form of photo identification. The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition stated that as many as 200,000 Missourians could be impacted.
“The State’s own data shows that the photo ID provision stands to burden more than 200,000 Missouri voters, disproportionately voters of color, seniors, voters with disabilities, young voters, and low-wage workers. The bill’s other provisions hit these communities hardest as well. Our democracy only functions when all have a seat at the table,” said Denise Lieberman, the group’s director and general counsel, in a statement.
Ashcroft told The Beacon he isn’t sure how many voting-eligible Missourians currently don’t have a form of government-issued photo ID, but said his office has a program in place to find Missourians who fit the category.
“We kind of think it’s a badge of honor when we can find someone and we can say, ‘Not only do you have that photo ID for voting, but think of everything else in society that having that government-issued photo ID helps you do,’” Ashcroft said.
Getting a photo ID provision into state statute in Missouri has been a priority for Republican lawmakers for many years. Repeated attempts have been thwarted by legal challenges.
In 2016, Missourians voted to amend the state’s constitution to allow the legislature to create a list of requirements for voters to identify themselves at their polling place. Voters who did not have photo identification were required to sign an affidavit saying as such and present a different form of identification.
It also asked voters to certify that they knew Missouri had photo ID requirements and that they did not possess a valid form of ID.
In 2018, a judge in Cole County ruled against the identification and affidavit requirements. Two years later, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld that decision.
If the latest bill is signed into law, voters would need to present a government-issued form of photo identification. Voter registration cards, utility bills and college IDs would not be proper forms of identification. Voters who do not have the required form of identification could fill out a provisional ballot or return to their polling place before the end of Election Day.
A provisional ballot would be sealed with the voter’s signature on the outside, so that election officials could ensure signatures on the envelope match ones on their registration files. If they do not match, the vote wouldn’t be counted.
Voting advocacy groups are already predicting litigation if the bill is signed into law. In response, Ashcroft said: “Bring it on.”
Two weeks of absentee voting as a compromise
A less controversial provision of the bill is the inclusion of two weeks of in-person, no-excuse absentee voting.
The provision was a result of a compromise after Senate Democrats filibustered the bill for nine hours before allowing it to come to a vote in the final days of the legislative session.
As a result, Missourians will be able to cast absentee ballots in person for two weeks before election day without needing to present a reason. Missouri is one of only five states that do not currently offer universal pre-Election Day mail in or in-person voting options, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Chris Hershey, an election administrator in the Platte County Board of Elections, said the no-excuse voting period would be a huge help on Election Day.
“Reduced restrictions on absentee voting during 2020 really made our Election Day a lot easier,” Hershey said. “So even though this isn’t the full absentee period, I think that’s going to be a big help.”
But, if the state’s photo ID provision is struck down in the courts, as many critics hope, the two-week absentee voting period would come out of the law as well. The two were tied together as a part of the compromise.
Increased oversight from the state’s top election official
The bill would also increase the secretary of state’s oversight over county voter rolls to ensure that they are being updated frequently and prohibit election officials from accepting private funds.
Elections officials are already required to canvass their elections after they are conducted, which includes removing voters who may have become inactive or did not respond to mailers about updating their voter information.
Under the bill, the secretary of state’s office could choose to perform audits of voter rolls to ensure ineligible voters are removed.
Hershey said he thinks the law is “a little bit vague.”
“It gives the secretary’s office quite a bit of leeway to actually perform those checks or not,” Hershey said. He said he worried that the provision could be used against counties that fall out of favor with the secretary of state, “as opposed to being used strictly for maintaining the voter rolls.”
Greg Woodhams, who heads the League of Women Voters of Kansas City’s voter outreach and education, told The Beacon that he fears the bill’s provision, if applied aggressively, could lead to mass removal of Missourians from the voter rolls.
“The local election authority being unfunded — to take it to its worst conclusion — you could effectively disenfranchise an entire voting district and election authority,” he said.
Another provision in the bill would allow the secretary of state to perform cybersecurity audits on county systems. If a county did not allow the secretary’s office to perform the audit, it could lose state funding.
Tammy Brown, the election administrator for parts of Jackson County outside of Kansas City, said conversations are still ongoing about who could perform the cybersecurity audits.
“I know several election officials have balked at having any third-party groups with any of our equipment or any of our anything. So that’s still among the discussions to be held,” Brown said.
Hershey said a third-party vendor performed a cybersecurity audit in his office in 2018.
“The results in the report that were provided were not necessarily helpful in improving our cybersecurity posture. It didn’t seem useful to us. And so we kind of wondered what was happening,” Hershey said, adding that a later cybersecurity audit performed by the Department of Homeland Security left the office with actionable items and the resources to make changes.
“I know that a cybersecurity audit can be helpful. But the one that we had before with the state didn’t feel very helpful,” he added.
A ban on outside funding was also put into the bill, which would prohibit local election offices from receiving private money to pay for things like loans on their voting machines, security equipment or personal protective equipment for election workers.
The bill would also require anyone who signs up more than 10 people to vote in a two-year cycle to register with the secretary of state’s office. And it would cancel the state’s presidential preference primary, which means voters would weigh in on the presidential nominees for each party through party-run caucuses.
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