Vote to uphold voting rights for all

By Jessica Farber Igielnik and Malissa Shaw

In March of 1965, thousands of protesters marched from Selma, Alabama to the capitol in Montgomery to fight for full voting rights and participation in the democratic process. Our country was in the midst of political, moral, and ethical turmoil. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel were among the civil rights leaders who made that historic march. A famous photo shows the two faith leaders, one African-American, one Jewish, nearly side-by-side in the front line of the march.

In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The protection of a fundamental right, one that civil rights leaders such as King and Heschel worked so hard to achieve, is again being threatened. As former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren noted “the right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.” In response to continued attacks on voting rights, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis have come together to address an issue that concerns both the Jewish and African-American communities. 

In Missouri, voters are being asked to approve Amendment 6, a ballot initiative that would change the wording of the Missouri Constitution to allow the legislature to impose various restrictions, such as the possession of specific kinds of photo identification, in order to cast a ballot. Because the Missouri Legislature already passed a companion bill to Amendment 6, we know that if the ballot initiative passes, the only forms of ID acceptable to vote would be a non-expired Missouri or Federal ID with a photo and an expiration date. The passage of this ballot initiative will make it more difficult and in some cases impossible for approximately 220,000 Missourians who are now legally registered to vote, but do not own the proper photo ID to exercise this fundamental right. People of color, seniors, those with disabilities, the working poor and students are nearly twice as likely to lack a non-expired Missouri-issued photo ID and would be among the groups most affected.

Many today find it difficult to empathize with a hardship we do not directly experience. Obtaining a photo ID can be relatively easy for those who have access to birth records, passports, or driver’s licenses. Across the state, however, many individuals face obstacles in this regard. Elderly who do not drive due to age, individuals who have a physical disability, and/or those living in poverty can lack the basic means to obtain a valid photo ID. For these individuals, it can be confusing, expensive, difficult and, in some cases, impossible to obtain or correct errors to underlying documents required to get a Missouri photo ID. Even everyday occurrences, such as a change of name due to marriage, could prevent someone from voting since birth records will no longer match up to current documents.

Students and veterans also will be turned away from the polls because of the restriction on the right to vote. Many students want to make a difference in the state where they attend college, yet want or need to keep their out-of-state license, which would not be an acceptable form of ID in Missouri. Veterans who have an expired ID will also be turned away. Many of our elderly veterans do not possess the proper paperwork to get a valid non-expired photo ID nor have the means to obtain one. 

If passed, Amendment 6 is estimated to cost taxpayers $17 million to implement, a large demand on our limited state budget on a law that will solely address a problem, voter impersonation fraud, that does not exist. In Missouri, there have been 17 documented cases of “some type of voter fraud” since 2005.  That is less than 1.7 cases a year out of over 4 million eligible voters annually in the state.  None of the actual or alleged cases of voter fraud have involved in-person voter impersonation, the only type of fraud addressed by Amendment 6. 

Fighting for the right to vote is part of the shared history of both of our communities. African-Americans fought to obtain this right through passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, then fought again for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to stop practices such as literacy tests and poll taxes as a condition for casting a ballot. Jews fled from countries that sponsored unspeakable atrocities against our people to a country where we did not always feel welcome. Yet, once we arrived in America, we were able to participate in the most basic function of the democratic process, voting. That is one of the reasons Jews worked alongside African-Americans for voting rights during the 1950s and 1960s. Fighting for social justice for all is central to Jewish teachings and values. 

In order to safeguard the right to vote, what Chief Justice Warren called “the essence of a democratic society,” we urge you to vote No on Amendment 6 on November 8.  

Jessica Farber Igielnik is a member of the Domestic Issues Advocacy Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council. Malissa Shaw is the President of the Young Professionals Division of the Urban League of Greater St. Louis.