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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

'Show Me' injustice

THE 15TH Amendment to the Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits "denial or abridgment of the right to vote." But it's OK with Missouri lawmakers if some citizens are denied that right as long as the electoral process is made safe from the hordes of illegal immigrants they would like the public to believe are conspiring to control American elections by voting illegally.

Lawmakers in the "Show Me" state are considering a constitutional amendment to require that voters present an official birth certificate, valid passport, or naturalization papers as proof of citizenship before being allowed to register to vote, perhaps beginning before the Nov. 4 presidential election.

The measure is the next illogical step in a progression that began last month when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law requiring that voters show a government-issued photo identification before voting.

The bill's supporters say they are just trying to make voting more secure. State Rep. Cynthia Davis (R., O'Fallon) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the purpose of the measure was to keep illegal immigrants from voting. "I don't understand why anybody wouldn't be in favor of protecting the integrity of the voting process," she said.

And Thor Hearne of the American Center for Voting Rights, a conservative advocacy group, told the New York Times that if states provided a free form of voter ID, the number of people disenfranchised would be very small.

Nobody other than Republican activists are concerned about illegal immigrants or others not entitled to vote casting ballots. Instances of voter fraud in the United States are extremely rare and, in truth, illegal immigrants are not inclined to put themselves in spots where identification of any sort are asked for.

The Missouri measure, similar bills being considered in 19 other states, and more stringent ID requirements passed in recent years in still other states, are little more than modern-day poll taxes playing off public fear in order to deny some people the right to vote and help win close elections. Disenfranchisement continues to be a serious problem in the United States, and even a small number of disenfranchised citizens is too many, whatever the GOP claims.

In this month's Indiana primary, for example, about a dozen nuns in their 80s and 90s were turned away at the polls by a member of their own religious order because they did not have identification approved by the state. Incidents similar to that one are likely to occur with alarming regularity is the current trend continues.

Women may be at most risk. According to a 2006 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, nearly a third of all women in America lack a citizenship document listing an accurate legal name. What woman, for example, has a birth certificate showing her married name?

If the Republicans truly are concerned about the integrity of the electoral process, their time could be spent more productively on an areas where real - not imaginary - problems exist, such as improving the accuracy and security of voting machines. But they're not, and the reason they're not is because the people most likely to be cut out of the process by voter ID laws are women, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and minorities - constituencies that often vote Democratic.

Missouri lawmakers have already had one voter-identification law struck down by the state Supreme Court. This latest venture is an even more onerous and burdensome attempt and should be abandoned before it does damage to voting fairness that won't be at all imaginary.



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