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Carnahan among Democrats who oppose GOP proposals to impose voter restrictions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 25, 2012 - Although Missouri won’t have a voter photo-ID proposal on the November ballot, the broader issue of voter access – the efforts of some to impose more restrictions – continues to be a concern for groups that aid the disabled.

That’s why officials with Paraquad, the local nonprofit organization that assists people with disabilities, are among the allied groups concerned about actions here and elsewhere that they perceive as making it more difficult for the disabled and the disadvantaged to vote.

Representatives of various groups were on hand this morning for a news conference featuring U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis. The congressman highlighted his support for a Democratic-proposed measure called the Voter Empowerment Act.

Carnahan echoed national congressional leaders, who earlier had said the act was prompted by actions in at least 16 states to curb voter registration and “early voting,” both of which had been expanded over the past 20 years.

Four states, said Carnahan, have enacted new laws that end early voting. “There seems to be an alarming and growing trend of people attacking the right to vote,” he said.

Even without the latest efforts, he continued, the nation already had problems with voter access. “In 2008, 3 million were turned away from the polls because of voter registration problems.”

Among other things, the Voter Empowerment Act calls for the use of the internet for voter registration and would require that states allow registered voters to update their registrations online when they move.

The act also has provisions to protect and expand the voting rights of the disabled. It also would require paper verification of tallies from automated voting machines.

Its 130 cosponsors include Carnahan’s opponent in this summer’s primary, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, as well as Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City.

No Missouri Republicans are among the cosponsors.

Carnahan acknowledges that the act has no chance of getting through Congress by November. In fact, it doesn’t yet have a companion version in the U.S. Senate – a virtual necessity for passage.

Meanwhile, the congressman said in an interview that he was pleased that a judge appears to have derailed the Republican-led effort to have on November’s ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to require voters to show government-issued photo IDs. 

The judge said the measure had misleading ballot language, and the General Assembly failed this session to pass a revised version. Republicans say the requirement is needed to prevent fraud, while Democrats say the proposal is primarily aimed at Democratic-leaning voting blocs – notably the young, the disabled and minorities – who are less likely to have the type of government-issued identification that the measure would mandate.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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