Voters need protection from self-appointed “voter protectors”

For now, at least, there’s not going to be a voter “protection” ballot measure on the November 2012 ballot, and that’s good news for voters.

In 2011, the Missouri legislature passed a ballot measure that, if approved by voters, would amend the state constitution to make it easier for lawmakers to make it harder for people to vote. Ostensibly, this measure will “protect” us from voter fraud. Last week [March 11, 2012], a Missouri circuit court judge rejected the ballot measure, which had the Orwellian name of “Voter Protection Act.”

Behind the “protection” subterfuge, of course, is the real motive: an effort to suppress voting by people who Republicans would love to keep away from the polls. The measure would require voters to present government-issued photo ID at the polls. The catch is that not everyone has a driver’s license or state ID, and to get one, you have to present your birth certificate or citizenship documents—and those cost money and time. And who are the people who don’t have these items? Mostly, it’s low-income and minority voters—and those demographic groups tend to vote for Democrats.

But what truly amazes me about this year’s voter suppression bill is who is sponsoring it. It’s State Rep. Shane Schoeller, a Republican from Springfield. Schoeller is currently a candidate for….wait for it…Missouri Secretary of State, and the juxtaposition of his voter suppression bill with his electoral quest is ironic, to say the least. In Missouri, the Secretary of State is in charge of elections. He or she oversees registration, candidate filing, voter registration and elections. You would think that the main missions of that job would be to make sure that everyone who’s eligible to vote can actually vote, to make sure the voting process is fair, transparent and therefore trustworthy, and to enfranchise as many people as possible, as a way of promoting participation in the democratic process. I guess that’s not how Schoeller sees the job. By the looks of the bill he introduced, it seems that he views  becoming Secretary of State as a way of ensuring victories for his fellow Republicans.

The judge who threw out Schoeller’s latest attempt at voter suppression said that the name of the ballot measure, the “Voter Protection Act,” violated truth-in-advertising requirements.The problem is that the wording in the ballot measure doesn’t contain the phrase “voter protection,” and, under Missouri rules, you at least have to show that your law is somehow related to what it’s named for.

This year’s legal setback to the initiative probably won’t stop Schoeller from reintroducing the same thing all over again. Apparently, nothing deters the vote suppressors from their mission: not the fact that photo voter ID was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006, and not even the fact that that studies of allegations of voter fraud in Missouri have turned up no evidence of fraud that could have been prevented by requiring photo ID.

One can only hope that the courts continue to see through the fraudulent claim of voter fraud and that they and citizens realize the importance, in our increasingly fragile democratic system, of protecting voters from the vote “protectors.”