Mo. Rep. Billy Long: Post-tornado Joplin voters won’t be disenfranchised

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

Missouri Republican Rep. Billy Long doesn’t expect Joplin voters to have major problems voting in Tuesday’s primary, or in November, he told The Daily Caller. Concerns surfaced in the Past week about 10,000 voter registration cards that were returned to Jasper County officials as undeliverable. Many were returned because their intended recipients were displaced by the May 2011 tornado that destroyed Joplin, Mo.

“They shouldn’t [have voting problems],” Long said during a phone interview Saturday. “Just like everything with the tornado from last year, everyone is doing the best they can.”

“These are very extenuating circumstances and every time you lose 8,000 residences, when things like this happen where 8,000 homes are no longer there — in this case, county officials are very confident that everybody who wants to vote will be able to vote. And we’re going to double-check Monday to see if there’s anything else that we need to do to make sure that that occurs.”

“We just want to make sure that everybody get to vote who wants to vote,” Long added. “And that’s the most important thing. We’re getting the word out through the media — radio and TV — that they are going to be able to vote.”

Long’s opinion differs from that of Missouri Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who told TheDC on Friday that he anticipates major problems at the polls for voters whose last known addresses were in Joplin. Kinder called on leaders in state and federal government agencies to fix any problems that arise. (RELATED: Obama, Holder silent on 10k potentially disenfranchised Joplin tornado victims)

“I call on Gov. Nixon, Attorney General Holder and President Obama to get in there and make sure that these people’s rights to vote are not infringed,” Kinder said. “As long as they let this problem just fester, their pledges of assistance to Joplin ring hollow.”

“I absolutely believe that our secretary of state is asleep on the job, delinquent, debilitatory, and I don’t know why she doesn’t drive herself into Joplin and get about the business of taking care of this immediately,” he said, referring to Democrat Robin Carnahan.

“I drove myself from the state capitol, Jefferson City, to Joplin yesterday for my own set of appointments in the evening and this morning,” said Kinder. “People are upset about this.”

After TheDC first reported Kinder’s criticisms, he wrote to Carnahan that it is “imperative that you provide assistance and resources to remedy this situation to guarantee every citizen’s constitutional right to vote.”

“I would hate to think that on top of the tragedy these Jasper County residents have already endured, they now face disenfranchisement for the upcoming elections,” Kinder added in writing. “The people of Joplin and Jasper County have lost enough already. They shouldn’t lose their right to vote.”

Ed Martin, a GOP attorney general candidate in Missouri, ripped the state’s Democratic attorney general Chris Koster in a statement Saturday for his inaction.

But Rep. Long told TheDC he trusts that the county officials managing elections in Joplin will make sure eligible voters can cast their ballots. “I’m not [worried],” Long said. “I might have different concerns than Lt. Gov. Kinder, but like I said, the county officials running the election don’t seem to think they’re going to have problems.”

Long added that he doesn’t believe Carnahan or Holder should come to Jasper County to help local officials — at least not yet.

“My best litmus test for that is county officials who actually conduct the elections,” Long told TheDC. “And they seem confident that they’ll be able to accommodate everyone even if they don’t have the proper registration. It might take them longer to vote.”

Long, a freshman congressman elected as part of the 2010 tea party wave, said preserving the ability of eligible Missourians to vote is his top priority.

“We just want to get the word out to everyone that it’s one of the most important things a citizen can do, exercising your right to vote. And we want to make sure that if you’re registered to vote, you have that opportunity on Tuesday,” Long said.

“And county officials are on high alert to make sure if there are any problems, [they’re resolved]. I saw one news story the other day that it might take longer for some people to vote, but they intend to accommodate everyone who wants to vote. And that’s the most important thing so that people are not disenfranchised.”

UPDATE 2 p.m. Sunday:

Jasper County clerk Bonnie Earl told The Daily Caller that there is no chance any voters will not be allowed to cast ballots. “I am the Election Authority in Jasper County and there is absolutely, positively no possibility of any voters not being allowed to vote,” Earl said in an email. “Missouri law states that the EA shall send new Voter ID cards every two years. Those cards were recently mailed and we had a higher number returned to us due to the horrific tornado that occurred here last year. Many people have been displaced. It is the voter’s responsibility to change his or her address when they move. There are several forms of identification that the voter can lawfully use in the state of Missouri to vote. So, not having a current voter ID does not exclude them from voting.”

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