I had the privilege of being a poll challenger last Tuesday for the Presidential election in Grandview. I experienced wonderful moments watching citizens proudly vote. I also watched heartbreaking disappointment when citizens of Jackson County were being disenfranchised by stupid rules.
Overall, what an experience! It was so invigorating to be present with masses of people who wanted to exercise their constitutional right to vote. I will always remember the woman, after completing her ballot, ecstatically shouting with raised arms, "I voted!" as she left the polling place. A woman with Down's Syndrome, accompanied by her parents, smiled broadly upon leaving the voting booth. It was energizing to see the voters empowered by their ability to cast their ballots. I was so impressed by the election poll workers, selected from both the Democrat and Republican parties working hard, by calling the election officials and verifying information to insure that everyone who could vote was able to vote.
What was distressing, however, was how Missouri election laws confounded the election process. As I learned on Tuesday, for purposes of elections, Kansas City and the rest of Jackson County have two separate election boards, as if they were in two separate counties, like St. Louis and St. Louis County. Problem is its all one county. Residents of Jackson County don't know that need to re-register if they move between Kansas City and other parts of Jackson County. The deadline for re-registration was October 10, 2012 and the election was November 6. If a voter moved within Kansas City or within Jackson County, they just change their addresses and vote. The problem is if they move from, say, Grandview to Kansas City, within the same county but between arbitrary boundaries created by the law, with no rhyme nor reason.
I observed minorities being excluded from voting while stationed in Grandview, the most racially diverse city in in Jackson City, outside of Kansas City proper. Grandview abuts Kansas City and, since the last presidential election in 2008, many minority voters had moved from one place to the next. Sometimes these moves were a few blocks apart, but to or from Kansas City. The voters naturally assumed that since they had voted in 2008, and they still lived in the same general neighborhood, they still had a right to vote. If they left eastern Jackson County and moved to Kansas City before, October 10, they lost their right to vote, even though they did not even leave Jackson County. And how does the election board discover this information? It's when those voter identification cards are returned to sender, the Kansas City or Jackson County election board. When the cards come back, the voter is labeled inactive and has to explain and sign a form with the explanation.
Many, many potential voters left angry and unsatisfied because even though they had registered to vote in Jackson County, that was not good enough because of the artificial division of the county into two arbitrary political entities. I observed that most of these disenfranchised voters were African American. They voted last time and no one told them that there were crazy rules they had to follow. At least one out of three voters in Grandview came up inactive. Some could still vote, after explanations of moving within eastern Jackson County or Kansas City, but many, many would-be voters were turned away. Voter turnout in Grandview was high, and a substantial number of American citizens were prevented from casting their votes.
I suspect that no one will claim the two election boards in Jackson County were created intentionally to limit minority voting, but limiting minority voting is precisely the result. I suspect not nearly as many Lees Summit or Blue Springs voters move to and from Kansas City compared to Grandview voters, neighbors of Kansas City immediately to the south. Minorities are drawn to Grandview and it is those citizens most likely to be disenfranchised.
The easiest solution is to consolidate the Kansas City and Jackson County election boards. Second easiest, and most fair, is to let voters change their addresses anywhere within the state up to Election Day. They deserve to vote. I don't want to see the crestfallen faces of disenfranchised minorities ever again.