By Nathan Henderson-James

In the wake of increasing media scrutiny and aggressive push-back from voting rights activists, the fight over Missouri’s proposed Constitutional amendment requiring proof of citizenship documents in order to register to vote moves to the State Senate today. The New York Times chose to make this issue the lead story on their front page today, Monday May 11, 2008 and Art Levine, writing at the Huffington Post gives a very good analysis of the potential impact of the law and the work being done both to push this draconian voter disenfranchisement measure and to fight for the voting rights of up to 240,000 Missouri voters.

In this posting from Friday, Project Vote noted the potential danger from the measure and showed how the Missourians for Fair Elections coalition was working to preserve voting rights.

The New York Times notes that this kind of law would substantially raise the bar for eligible voters seeking to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to vote.

Measures requiring proof of citizenship raise the bar higher because they offer fewer options for documentation. In most cases, aspiring voters would have to produce an original birth certificate, naturalization papers or a passport. Many residents of Arizona and Missouri already have citizenship information associated with their driver’s licenses, and within a few years all states will be required by the federal government to restrict licenses to legal residents.

Critics say that when this level of documentation is applied to voting, it becomes more difficult for the poor, disabled, elderly and minorities to participate in the political process.

“Everyone has been focusing on voter ID laws generally, but the most pernicious measures and the ones that really promise to prevent the most eligible voters from voting is what we see in Arizona and now in Missouri,” said Jon Greenbaum, a former voting rights official at the Department of Justice and now the director of the voting rights project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a liberal advocacy group.

The Huffington Post shows how this measure, while couched in rhetoric about preserving the integrity of the ballot by protecting it from voter fraud, is really a measure aimed at keeping certain groups from participating at their full potential.

But protecting voters from fraud isn’t the real goal of this measure – it’s just helping GOP officials hold on to political power by blocking Democratic-leaning voters, critics say. “Their spin is that the elections are overrun with fraud,” says the non-partisan Missouri ACORN’s legislative director, Julie Terbrock. “But this measure effectively disenfranchises all these voters,” she says, citing the Secretary of State’s report on citizens without ID.

At a fair-election coalition press conference at the League of Women Voters’ headquarters in Jefferson City, a few nuns came forward to express their concerns that the Catholic sisters in their convents lack the required ID. In fact, before the news conference, Sister Sandy Schwartz of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in St. Louis reported the results of an informal survey of nuns in her order. “Fifteen [of 35 voters] did not have state-issued photo IDs,” she observed. “This may sound like a good idea at first, but once you stop to think about who would really be affected, this is going to keep a lot of our loved ones from being able to vote.”

The strict documentary requirements can be hard for Missouri nuns and other senior citizens, even married women of all ages, in obtaining their birth certificates. A survey by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice found that 52 percent of married woman don’t have a birth certificate in their current name, and 17 percent of citizens age 65 and over don’t have access to any citizenship documents.

At the press conference, Lillie Lewis, an elderly African-American woman, told how she struggled to get a birth certificate in order to secure a state-issued photo ID under the state’s rigid “Show Me Proof” law passed in 2005. “I have tried everything to get a copy of my birth certificate,” Lewis said, “but Mississippi says they have no record of my birth.” So she likely won’t be able to obtain a new driver’s license, and, as a result, she declared, “My right to vote will be denied.”

Today the Missouri State Senate holds hearings on the proposed Constitutional Amendment, which passed the state house on a party-line vote on Thursday. Missourians for Fair Elections will be working hard to make the case that this measure would stop legitimate voters from voting while being enacted to protect the state from a problem, voter impersonation, which simply does not exist.

If you want to learn more about this issue, contact Laura Egerdal at 314-363-5571 or Missourians for Fair Elections at

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