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Missouri voting rights advocates take on Trump’s election commission

Denise Lieberman with the Advancement Project speaks at the beginning of a news conference on voter rights Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, in front of the Missouri History Museum.
Erica Hunzinger | St. Louis Public Radio
Denise Lieberman with the Advancement Project speaks at the beginning of a news conference on voter rights Tuesday outside of the Missouri History Museum.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. with comment from St. Clair County state's attorney — President Donald Trump’s election commission is bent on restricting Americans’ right to vote, members of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition said Tuesday.

The statements came the same day the Trump administration’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity met in New Hampshire. The commission, headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was set up in May. It asked states to send in voter registration records.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has turned over voters’ names, addresses, birth dates and voting locations to the commission, which was established to look into allegations of voter fraud. Ashcroft has said he wouldn’t send Social Security numbers.

Louise Wilkerson with the League of Women Voters said at a news conference outside of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis that a national effort to collect voter information is not needed.

“The states do a very good job of handling their own voter rolls," she said. "Further, this is contrary to the principle of protecting the privacy of voters. It is in the privacy of the voting booth where everyone is equal. This is what makes our democracy great.”

Tuesday’s federal commission meetingincluded a presentation by Dr. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center about voter photo ID laws, of which the majority of states have some form. His presentation included a slide that said St. Clair County and St. Louis County are among the “hot spots” of voter fraud, according to the American Center for Voting Rights.

Denise Lieberman, the Advancement Project’s Power and Democracy co-program director, pushed back against that claim.

“There has never been a single case of voter impersonation prosecuted in the state of Missouri,” she said. “So the allegations of fraud are themselves the fraud.”


St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, a Democrat, said he wasn’t sure how Lott decided what made a county a “hot spot.” However, his county has gone after voter fraud more than any other county in Illinois.

Already, he’s won three convictions this year, and election fraud charges were brought this week in Brooklyn, in which a person was accused of voting with a mail-in ballot from an address that’s a vacant lot. He’s also won fraud convictions for people trying to vote as Democrat and Republican in the same primary and for handling absentee ballots without authority.

“We have been very diligent and aggressive about seeking out information that would indicate there may be people who are cheating, people who are violating the election code here in Illinois,” he said, adding later, “I don’t believe that we should try to make it more difficult to vote. I think voting should be easier. The more people participate, the better. But I also think we need more resources to help to be able to investigate and prosecute those who are trying to cheat.”

Kelly, who’s been in office since 2011, also said voter fraud shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“I think we should all care very much about the results of our elections being ones that have integrity and that we can have trust in,” he said.

St. Louis County Election Commissioner Rick Stream, a Republican, was unavailable for comment.

Lott also proposed that the U.S. require background checks before someone can register to vote, similar to background checks for some gun purchases in Missouri, the Kansas City Star reported.

State Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, took issue with that suggestion, saying that these proposals are about holding on to power, not preventing voter fraud.

“They see the numbers, they know that the demographics of America is changing. And so to maintain power is to get rid of the demographic change,” he said. “And if you did background checking on people who were in jail — who are out of jail now — you are disenfranchising people of color, for the most part.”

And Kenny Murdoch, the head of the St. Louis County NAACP chapter, believes it’s about stripping people’s ability to vote.

“They want to stop you from being able to do the one enfranchisement that makes you equal with them on one day, and that is your right to vote,” he said.

Missouri’s voter ID law is beingchallenged in state court by the Advancement Project and the ACLU of Missouri on behalf of the League of Women Voters and the NAACP. Ashcroft recently requested that the lawsuit be dismissed after there were no reported problems with the law during the Aug. 8 elections.

Lieberman said the groups that are suing believe they have a valid claim.

“Looking just to voters’ experiences in one special election in August is insufficient to really tell the whole story of the full impact of this voter ID law, and that’s what we intend to do in court,” she said.

Ashcroft wasn’t available for comment.

Follow Erica on Twitter: @ehunzinger