Discrimination or fraud deterrence? Debate over voter ID heats up

10 months 3 days 9 hours ago May 19, 2016 May 19, 2016 Thursday, May 19 2016 Thursday, May 19, 2016 3:17:00 PM CDT in Top Stories
By: Max Diekneite, KOMU 8 Reporter

JEFFERSON CITY - Cassandra Gould's mother marched in Selma in 1964, and was a part of the movement that brought equal voting rights for African Americans in the U.S. This year, Gould said she believes Missouri lawmakers made a clear statement by passing a new voter I.D. measure. 

"I feel like the legislators danced on my ancestors graves," Gould said. 

On May 13, state legislators passed two bills that could change the way people vote in Missouri. The first, HB 1631, would require a person to either submit a specified form of photo identification or sign an affidavit in order to vote. But, in order for that bill to become law, a constitutional amendment must be passed by voters. The second bill, HJR 53, asks voters to decide whether the constitutional amendment is necessary.

The latter bill's sponsor, Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said the goal of all of this is to prevent voter fraud, and said his bill has nothing to do with race. 

"If you look at the bill, they're absolutely wrong. They show up to vote, and if they have a photo ID or sign an affidavit, then they can still vote," Dugger said. 

Not everyone agrees with Dugger. The President of Missouri's NAACP chapter, Nimrod Chapel Jr, told KOMU 8 he believes politicians like Dugger are trying to take away people's freedoms. 

"I would call this a failed legislative session," Chapel said. "I would say that people who supported the legislation are not supporting core American values, and that the arguments we've heard about voter fraud are disingenuous, they're lies, they're misrepresentations, and that's not what we have politicians for. We don't need those kinds of politicians."

This past Sunday, Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Jefferson City held a poignant rally to jump start the grassroots campaign aimed at defeating the voter I.D. measure. Gould, the church's reverend, said she believes politicians are trying to keep disenfranchised people from voting. 

"Whether you're African American, Hispanic, or elderly, those are the people that already have barriers. Those are also the populations that are least likely to have a particular kind of ID," said Dr. Cassandra Gould, the Church's reverend. "It is a group of citizens that are already marginalized, that are at the highest risk of having this further marginalize them."

Gould, Chapel and Rep. Dugger each said there had only been one recently reported case of voter fraud in Missouri. Gould and Chapel said they believe this proves Republican lawmakers are using voter fraud as an excuse to pass divisive legislation, but Rep. Dugger said just because there haven't been many reported cases, it doesn't mean fraud isn't taking place. 

"You can't necessarily prove if other people have impersonated someone in order to vote," Dugger said. "All these people who are hollering, they're hollering for nothing." 

It had not been decided as of Thursday whether the voter I.D. measure will make the August or November ballot. Opponents of the legislation said they'd prefer it to be placed on the November ballot, due to the fact more people will be voting because of the presidential election. 

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