SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Voters narrowly approved a controversial measure requiring employers to use E-Verify to determine workers' eligibility to legally work in the United States. With 80 of 82 precincts counted, the proposal - placed on the ballot by a citizen initiative - received 8,247 yes votes to 8,026 no votes. Greene County clerk Richard Struckhoff said votes in the remaining two precincts would not affect the outcome.
Jerry Wilson of the Ozarks Minutemen said he thought the results could have gone either way, but did expect a wider margin of victory.
Wilson and the Minutemen led the collection of signatures to bring the issue before the Springfield City Council last summer. A divided council opted to send the issue to voters.
Opponents, which included Mayor Jim O'Neal and council members Cindy Rushefsky and Bob Stephens, said they were disappointed in the result, particularly since such a small portion of the community decided the issue. Turnout was less than 15 percent of registered voters in the city.
Council members may change or scrap the E-Verify law after six months, but only with a unanimous vote. Even though she's against the ordinance, Rushefsky says she is opposed to changing something that voters approve.
Wilson said his group is pleased by the outcome but did not host a victory party on Tuesday.
"We ask that any celebration be tempered by the seriousness of this issue. It was a contentious issue and it's an issue in which people of good conscience can disagree," Wilson said.
Grupo Latinoamericano and other opponents have said the initiative asks people to racially profile employees.
They cite Minutemen publications that encourage residents to look out for illegal immigrants. The Ozarks Minutemen's website claims they can be spotted walking with their head down, wearing button-down shirts while working, hanging out at home stores, and shopping late at night.
Wilson said the group's only motivation behind the push to use E-Verify is to ensure workers are legal.
"The E-verify program doesn't target anyone. There never was a racial motive in this entire campaign. What we will say, and what we say right now, those who have immigrated to America and are in our community, we welcome you here, we realize the freshness and the vitality and the ambition that you have brought in," said Wilson
Both supporters and opponents acknowledge problems with the ordinance the way it is currently written. Prescribed fines for employers who fail to comply are in conflict with federal laws.