In this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks to public radio reporters from Iowa, Ohio, Kansas and Missouri to see hower voter laws are changing across the Midwest.
A 2017 voter law required voters to provide an identification numbers from a driver’s license, a non-driver’s license or a voting card in order to apply for an absentee ballot.
“Critics just say [requiring numbers] is an unnecessary complication, supporters say it’s a way of verifying that you are who are you,” Iowa Public Radio’s statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell says. “But at any rate there was enough question about that [claim] that the court said we’re going to keep that temporarily halted until the lower court can have a full review on the merits of that case.”
The law also allowed election officials to reject absentee ballots if they determine that the voter’s signature doesn’t match their registration papers.
The League of United Latin American Citizens pursued a lawsuit against the absentee ballot mandates. In July, a district court judge had halted these laws, citing concerns about voters discouraged by registration procedures.
However, the law that shortens the early voting window is still in place for the upcoming election.
In this battleground state, voters are at risk for having their voter registration automatically removed if they do not cast a ballot for two federal elections, or fail to respond to notices asking for address confirmation.
Ohio’s voter cancellation program was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Advocates for automated voter removal say the practice will keep the state’s voter registry updated, but critics worry the law will disproportionately affect low-income voters and communities of color.
“The problem with a lot of this [law] is that people were showing up to vote and finding they’d been removed with no way to make up for that because the voter registration period had been closed,” Statehouse Bureau Chief for Ohio Public Radio and Television Karen Kasler says, adding that provisional ballots are also not an option for those who do not have the same address on their ID and voter registration.
Since 2013, Kansas law had required proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote in elections. This mandate was stuck down by a federal judge in June. It’s a law that was pushed by Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, who recently won the primary for Kansas Governor. Kobach was in charge of the White House’s voter fraud commission under President Donald Trump. The commission saw fraud as an epidemic, though many experts dispute the claims.
“Voter turnout and voter registration rates in [the Topeka area and Kansas City metro] districts are going to matter,” Kansas News Service Editor Amy Jeffries says. “I can tell you that through the registration deadline for these primary elections that have just occured...There’s still confusion out there about what you need to do to register and who's eligible to vote in which elections.”
Missouri voters must provide a voter photo ID as mandated by law in 2016.
That law has exceptions. If a person does not have a driver’s license, non-driver’s license, military ID or passport, they can sign an affidavit accompanied by an utility bill or alternative form of ID verifying they do not own a photo ID. The state will then provide an ID free of charge to the voter.
“[The upcoming elections] could come down to just a handful of a few thousand voters. If there are disputes over what kept people from voting and whether ballots were legally cast, that could have real implications,” Brian Ellison, host of “Statehouse Blend Missouri” at KCUR in Kansas City, says.
During this River to River conversation, we also hear about the outlook for these states' elections.