Woman with disability says polls not accommodating after new voter ID law

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COLUMBIA- Kirsten Richards said she's a conscientious voter. Rain or shine, she thinks it's important for her voice to be heard.

"Unless I'm very ill, I vote. Even if it's only a two question ballot, which is what it was for me yesterday," Richards said.

Though she's consistent, that doesn't mean her voting experiences are easy ones.

Richards suffered a traumatic brain injury that left her reading ability at a second grade level, and she can't read the ballot while she's voting.

"They send us a sample ballot, and I spend the week studying and preparing and marking the answers so I know the order of the circles I need to fill out when I go in," Richards said.

When she went to her typical voting center at the Parkade Baptist Church Tuesday evening, she figured it would be like every other time. But there was a new hurdle for Richards that she hadn't prepared for.

Richards always uses her passport, which expired in 1994, as her form of identification when voting. She wasn't familiar with the ShowIt2Vote law, Missouri’s new photo voter ID law that went into effect on June 1, 2017. The law makes voters sign an affidavit if they don't have a valid Missouri-issued photo ID. 

Richards had never seen the affidavit before and couldn't understand what it said.

"It was really close together, and it was small print and the lines were long, and those are all things that make it even harder for me to read," Richards said.

Richards said the election officials claimed it was just a document confirming her name and address were correct. But she was able to make out the words "perjury" and "not having ID" and knew there was more to what she was signing. Officials offered to read the affidavit to her, but Richards declined, still unsure of what the form actually said, a form that was punishable under penalty of perjury.

"If I go to a restaurant and can't read the menu, and they read the menu to me, that's fine. Worst case scenario, I'm going to get food that I didn't expect," Richards said. "But when I'm signing a legally binding document under penalty of perjury, having some random stranger read it to you is not acceptable."

After speaking to the Boone County Clerk over the phone, it became clear that if she wanted another kind of accommodation, she would either have to go to the Boone County Government Center or not vote at all.

"I appreciate the volunteers and their dedication and effort, but when two nonagenarians are taking turns trying to read something they can barely read themselves, it's very frustrating and difficult to understand," Richards said.

The Boone County Clerks Office said its accommodations are more than in line.

"The judges reading the affidavit to them complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act," said County Clerk Taylor Burks.

The clerk's office also offers absentee ballots, the ability to bring a personal assistant to help with voting, and a text-to-speech booth that's only available at the Boone County Government Center.

Richards is used to using the iPads at the Parkade Baptist Church to vote, and her personal iPad has text-to-speech functionality that's native to the device.

She said the whole situation would've been resolved if the iPads at the voting center had that function turned on, which is as simple as hitting a button.

"What they should have done was adjusted the machine that I was trying to sign so it would read because it was already capable of doing that," Richards said.

"If a voter ever has a suggestion on how we can be more compliant or more accommodating for an individual with a disability, I'm open to exploring how we can do that," Burks said.