New report finds some Missouri voting laws hinder voters, but cites some improvement

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  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770

Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407

Registration requirements, provisional ballot counting practices provide excessive hurdles to voting, but strong state law protects voters from deception

Washington, DC – A new report finds that Missouri election laws continue to hinder full voter participation, citing the state’s early registration deadline – 27 days before Election Day –and its law governing the counting of provisional ballots. However, according to the report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” outreach to low-income voters has vastly improved and the state has a strong law to prevent voter suppression and deception tactics.

The report examines Missouri election laws and policies and highlights their potential impact on voter participation in the upcoming mid-term elections. Because this year’s Missouri ballot includes a closely-contested U.S. Senate race, participation rates could determine the outcome of the election. The report was produced by national policy centers and election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos. It reviews voting laws and policies in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“Every close election seems to invite problems for voters at the polls and Missouri’s election will be close,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “While we applaud Missouri for its strong law to address intentional distribution of deceptive information, we remain concerned about voters without identification and challenges to voters at the polls.”

“When races are close, every vote counts,” said Susannah Goodman, director of the Election Reform Program at Common Cause and co-author of the report. “Our report shows where Missouri voters need to pay attention to the rules or they could lose their right to vote in this election.”

The report examines problematic voting areas including registration, ID issues (which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license), provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

For Missouri, the report found a number of notable obstacles to full voter participation.

The voter registration deadline falls 27 days prior to the election, effectively barring some interested citizens from registering and voting.

Missouri voters who do not bring the right ID to the polls on Election Day cannot vote and do not receive even a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct are completely disregarded.

Any voter may challenge any other voter on Election Day and the final determination of whether the voter may vote by a regular ballot is left to the majority of election judges at the polling place.

Individuals on probation or parole for a felony are not eligible to vote.

Election officials do not conduct any formal outreach for immigrant or language minority voters.

On the positive side, the report found some exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

Missouri is the only state with a law directly addressing deceptive practices. The law prohibits knowingly providing false information about election procedures for the purpose of preventing any person from going to the polls.

After a federal judge found the state’s Department of Social Services in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and ordered immediate compliance in July 2008, voter registrations at public assistance agencies have increased dramatically.