JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republicans made another pass at requiring voters show photo identification at the polls with the House giving first-round approval Wednesday to the proposal.
The idea has been debated for several years in Missouri, generally splitting along partisan lines. Republican supporters contend a photo ID requirement would help guard against possible voter fraud. Democratic critics say there have not been recent documented instances of voter impersonation and that it would make voting harder for some. Unlike past years, however, Republicans now control a veto-proof supermajority in the House and the Senate.
Lawmakers debated the proposal Wednesday in a sometimes argumentative discussion that continued into the night.
Republicans said it is not an effort to restrict the ability to vote and noted that a photo ID already is required for many activities in daily life.
“This is a common-sense solution for a real problem,” said Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia.
Democrats said voting rights must be protected.
“We have fundamental disagreements, but they’re all solved one way or the other by the fundamental right that comes before all other rights and that’s the right to vote,” said Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City.
Missouri voters currently can show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID or prove their identity with documents that do not contain a photograph, such as copies of current utility bills, bank statements or paychecks with their names and addresses. The proposal would allow people who do not have a valid driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID to cast a provisional ballot. They could sign an affidavit that they could not obtain a photo ID because they cannot afford the supporting documentation, are disabled, have religious beliefs against it or are elderly. Those provisional ballots would be counted if the signature matches the one on file with local election authorities.
Sponsors say they intend for that to cover anyone born before 1948.
Others without a photo ID could vote by provisional ballot but would need to provide valid identification to local election officials within three days after the election.
Missouri’s proposal would involve two pieces: a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval that would permit a photo ID requirement and separate legislation to implement it.
A change to the Missouri Constitution is required because the state Supreme Court struck down a 2006 photo ID law as an unconstitutional infringement on the fundamental right to vote. That law was passed by a GOP-led Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt. In 2011, the Republican-led Legislature passed a constitutional amendment and the separate legislation. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, and a trial judge rejected the ballot summary for the constitutional amendment, calling it insufficient.
“We’ve debated this years and years,” said Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis. “It hasn’t made it to the finish line, and it shouldn’t.”
Republican Rep. Kevin Engler, who returned to the House this year after spending two terms in the Senate, said many voters perceive that there is corruption in the system. He said the voter ID proposal is not as good as many GOP colleagues think it is, nor is it as bad as many Democrats fear. He called it a step in the right direction.
“It will not create winners and losers, but it will give a little more credibility to the system,” said Engler, of Farmington.
The House endorsed the constitutional amendment 108-46 with support from two Democrats. The separate legislation implementing the photo ID requirement was approved in a party-line 106-48 vote. Both measures require another vote before moving the Senate.
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