Critics expressed concern today about a previously unexamined aspect of the record of attorney general nominee John Ashcroft — his successful efforts to block legislation designed to equalize access to voter registration in the St. Louis area.
As governor, Ashcroft twice vetoed measures passed overwhelmingly by the Missouri legislature that sought to make it possible for volunteer deputy registrars from nonpartisan organizations to engage in voter registration in the city of St. Louis, which was about 50 percent black.
“Mr. Ashcroft’s vetoes show a disturbing commitment to maintaining separate and unequal access to voter registration for African-Americans,” John Hickey, executive director of the Missouri Citizen Education Fund, said today.
While Ashcroft was governor, the election commissioners in St. Louis City and St. Louis County established different policies for appointing volunteer deputy registrars. In the county — which was mainly white and Republican at the time — commissioners would freely deputize the registrars from groups like the League of Women Voters. But in the city, which had a much higher black population, similar registrars were not deputized.
“As a result, it was more difficult to get registered to vote in the City of St. Louis than in St. Louis County,” Hickey recalled today. “Citizens wishing to register had to travel to fixed sites, such as the Election Board headquarters downtown, which in many cases were only open during daytime hours.” In early 1989, shortly before Ashcroft’s second veto of the legislation, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the disparity of voter registration rates — 81 percent in the county compared to 73 percent in the city.
The bills were passed by the Missouri legislature in spring 1988 by margins of 95 to 54 in the house and 24 to 8 in the senate, and in spring 1989 by 104 to 45 and 20 to 13. The 1988 bill mandated that the St. Louis City election board allow “recognized nonpartisan civic, political, fraternal, religious, or service organizations” to conduct voter registration drives. The 1989 bill contained a similar provision for election authorities in the entire state.
Ashcroft won re-election for governor in November 1988. “Ashcroft’s veto of the voter reform bill in 1988 aided his re-election bid by suppressing black voter registration in St. Louis City,” Hickey said.
A statement released today by the Institute for Public Accuracy, a national consortium of policy researchers, said: “Especially in view of the events in Florida last November, it’s crucial to scrutinize Ashcroft’s vetoes of bills designed to equalize access to voter registration. As governor of Missouri, he went out of his way to maintain a status quo of inequities in voting rights. Americans have grave reasons to wonder what Ashcroft would go out of his way to do — and not do — as attorney general of the United States.”
For further information, contact:
Executive Director, Missouri Citizen Education Fund
Institute for Public Accuracy