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Missouri House GOP seeks to transform elections

by Caoilinn Goss, Missouri News Network | February 27, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Missouri lawmakers, like their counterparts in 19 other states, are trying to change the process by which votes are cast, counted and certified.

The efforts build on past legislative attempts, but this year would break new ground by expanding who can initiate election audits and limiting the powers of local election boards to inform voters about their options. And they come right after the state temporarily made it easier to vote during the height of the pandemic.

According to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, 34 restrictive voting laws passed across 19 states in 2021.

Missouri is among five states that could require new forms of identification to apply for a mail-in ballot. Legislators in the state join those in New Jersey and Washington, who are proposing new reasons why mail ballots could be rejected.

The elements that have gotten the furthest are the ones the state has been trying the longest -- photo ID laws. The House Committee on Elections and Elected Officials adopted two pieces of photo ID legislation last week.

This year, more than 37 bills have been pre-filed across eight states that specifically address voter ID requirements.

Thirteen such bills have been introduced in Missouri. Proponents of the legislation said the requirements are necessary to eliminate opportunities for voter fraud, while opponents said restrictive voter ID laws disproportionately affect voters who already face barriers when voting.

If passed, both bills would eliminate the option for voters to use alternate forms of identification. Under current state law, voters can use the voter confirm­a­tion docu­ment that is issued by mail, a bank state­ment, a govern­ment check or sign an affidavit attesting to their identity.

HB 1878, which passed out of the committee in a vote 8-4, would require voters without the correct personal identification to vote via a provisional ballot.

HJR 94 is a proposed Constitutional amendment that would require voters to provided a current government-issued photo ID.

Proponents of the bills said they are intended to eliminate opportunities for fraud and preserve election integrity.

Julie Allen, of the Missouri NAACP, testified last week in opposition to a photo ID provision included in HB 2113. She said the requirements, if implemented, could prevent more than 200,000 eligible Missourians from voting.

"I find that number to be incredibly inflated and incredibly inaccurate," Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Jefferson, said during the hearing, stating it had not changed in his seven years on the committee.

"This provision has been struck down twice previously by the Missouri Supreme Court," Allen said. "So not only is this provision fiscally irresponsible, it creates voting obstacles for a large number of eligible voters."

Most recently in 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that a law with similar language requiring voters without photo ID to sign affidavits was unconstitutional.

Expanded efforts

Since the 2020 presidential election, voting legislation has expanded beyond how voters identify themselves.

"This year's bills go even a step further in taking authority away from local election officials, making it easier for partisan actors to overturn ballot election results," said Denise Lieberman, a professor at Washington University and general counsel for the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition. "Bills that would starve election officials of the funding they need to make voting accessible for their communities."

Another bill discussed in Wednesday's hearing, HB 1455, would prohibit anyone, election officials included, from distributing unsolicited applications for absentee ballots.

Five other states have introduced similar legislation, though Missouri is the only state where violators would face criminal charges and potentially prison time. In contrast, several states including Hawaii and Utah have introduced legislation that would require election officials to automatically send mail-in ballots to all voters for every election.

HB 2082 would require voters to include their party affiliation when registering to vote, and would make that registration public record.

"By requiring partisan registration, the voters would have to potentially re-register each election cycle, depending on whether there were local candidates running for a party of their choice," John Bowman, the president of the NAACP in St. Louis County, said in his testimony against HB 2082 last week. "Alternatively, it means people who registered as a Republican in a highly Democratic area, or vice versa, would not be able to vote, as there may not be anyone running and a primary for that party."

Bowman also said the bill could have unintended consequences and open voters up to profiling.

Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, said voters would still be able to vote in a different party's primary.

"You can still choose whatever ballot you would like to choose in a primary ballot," Simmons said, "no matter what your registration was."

The committee adjourned without a vote on HB 2082.

The work of the Missouri News Network is written by Missouri School of Journalism students and editors for publication by Missouri Press Association member newspapers.

Click the links below to read the full bill:

• HB 1878: Elections

Sponsor: Rep. John Simmons

• HJR 94: Voter identification

Sponsor: Rep. John Simmons

• HB 2113: Elections

Sponsor: Rep. Peggy McGaugh

• HB 1455: Elections

Sponsor: Rep. Hardy Billington

• HB 2082: Political party affiliation

Sponsor: Rep. Dan Stacy


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