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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Voter photo ID requirement could be confusing

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

SIKESTON -- Local county clerks predict the new voter photo identification requirement will create confusion and frustration for voters and election officials in the November election.

"It's going to anger voters, particularly in rural areas and small communities, where they've gone to the same polling place (since they could vote) and the election judges know them," Mississippi County Clerk Junior DeLay said.

The legislation approved May 12 by the Missouri Legislature requires people to show photo identification issued by Missouri or the federal government, such as a driver's license or military ID card, starting in the November elections.

The bill also ends straight-ticket voting in Missouri, which allows voters to mark a single box to select all candidates from the same political party, rather than check the box next to each candidate's name.

"As far as how it's going to affect the August primary and November election, there's no mandate that's come down yet, and it's all still to unfold," New Madrid County Clerk Clement Cravens said about the requirement.

Gov. Matt Blunt said in a recent news release he intends to sign the bill, which is SB 1014, into law. A spokesperson with Blunt's office said Tuesday the governor hasn't yet signed the bill and has until July 14 to do so.

"Until he (Blunt) actually signs it, and we see the true bill, we're sitting here not knowing for sure exactly what's included," Scott County Clerk Rita Milam said.

But the county clerks have an idea of what kind of impact the legislation would have in their counties.

For instance, county clerks, their staff and election judges are still adjusting to new equipment and the new voter registration system.

"To throw this (voter ID requirement) on top of it, it's really going to create a nightmare for us, especially provisional ballots of this bill," DeLay said. The clerks agreed there's not a lot of time between the August and November elections to make the changeover.

"That's a lot for people (election judges) to work through and who work three or four elections a year, and this is not a full-time business for them. Most are doing it out of their patriotic duty and it's surely not about pay. It's about a sense of responsibility to the community," said Mike Hepler, Sullivan county clerk and president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities.

Voters lacking a photo ID this fall could cast a provisional ballot, which would count if their identities are verified. The elderly, disabled and those with religious objections could cast a provisional ballot without a photo ID in any election.

Once a provisional ballot is cast, it's placed in an envelope, DeLay said.

"The first thing the county clerk has to do is investigate the qualifications of the voter to see if they're eligible to vote. You won't get an official count until days after the election," DeLay said.

It could take longer in urban areas, DeLay pointed out.

"Then if you find that voter is not qualified, you have to write them a letter and tell them why," DeLay said.

In the past, very few provisional ballots have counted in elections across the state, but in November Hepler expects a majority to be counted, he said.

"I've heard projections as high as 10 percent of the overall vote could be provisional," Hepler said about the November election.

And those blue "voter identification" cards most registered voters have received recently or will receive in the mail will be obsolete by the November election, the county clerks said.

"Obviously they are a form of identification, but by themselves, they won't be adequate (beginning in November)," Cravens said.

The cards can be used as proper identification in the August election, but not the November election, the clerks said. In November, the cards will become "voter notification" cards.

Milam said she thinks the requirement will hurt voter turnout because it's one more thing voters have to do.

"If you are a registered voter and in a poll register book, and the election judges know you, you should be able to vote and cast a ballot like a person with a photo ID," Milam said. "It's not fair to the voter who makes an effort to come out and vote or to the county clerks and their staff."

Milam said voters who currently don't have a photo ID may want to inquire about getting one.

And Hepler asked voters to be patient and understanding through the transition process in the coming months.

Through preparation -- and overpreparation -- everything will work out in November, he said.

"It's what our legislators thought was the right thing to do," Hepler said. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but it won't improve the process. It won't add any safeguards."

Supporters of the bill say it will cut down on voter fraud.

DeLay noted the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities opposed the bill as it was passed.

"This bill originated as a Senate Bill and former Cole County Clerk Bill Deeken proposed an amendment to delay the provisional ballot aspect of this bill, and it passed in the House," DeLay said. "When it went to conference committee, they opposed the amendment in the bill's final form."

And if voters find themselves casting a provisional ballot or waiting in a longer than usual line next fall, DeLay asked them to remember one thing before they direct their frustration at election officials. He said: "The voters can't shake their fists at us because we opposed it."