JEFFERSON CITY • Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday vetoed a bill that would have required Missouri voters to provide a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot.
In the closing days of this year's legislative session, lawmakers placed on next November's ballot an amendment to the state constitution, mandating photo IDs for voters. They also passed an accompanying bill that would implement the ID requirement.
Voters will still have their say next year on the amendment. But by vetoing the implementation bill, Nixon prevented the law from taking effect even if voters approve the amendment.
In a letter explaining his veto, Nixon said the photo ID requirement would have hurt senior citizens and people with disabilities who are qualified to vote but are less likely to have a drivers license or other government-issued photo ID.
"Disenfranchising certain classes of persons is not acceptable," he said.
In 2006, Republican lawmakers passed a photo ID bill that was later struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court. The court ruled that the law amounted to a "heavy and substantial burden on Missourians' free exercise of the right of suffrage."
Missouri voters are already required to provide a form of ID before casting a ballot, but the list includes some without a photo, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.
A 2009 study by the secretary of state's office estimated that about 230,000 Missourians are registered to vote but lack a government-issued photo ID, although Republicans dispute that figure. A 2007 study by Washington University found that among blacks, young people and low-income residents — historically among the most loyal Democratic supporters — about 80 percent of registered voters had access to a government-issued photo ID. That compares with about 90 percent of white, middle-class and middle-aged voters.
The vetoed bill included a mandate that the state cover the cost of obtaining a photo ID for those who are unable to do so. It also would have exempted several groups that could have problems getting a photo ID, including anyone born before 1941 or someone with a religious belief against obtaining those forms of identification.
Exempted voters would have been allowed to cast a provisional ballot, to be counted only after an election official verified their identity by comparing their signature with one on file.
Critics point out that a large number of provisional ballots are never counted and argue that over time, a person's signature can change with age or physical disability.
"Placing a cloud of uncertainty over ballots cast by qualified voters is inconsistent with an individual's right to vote and have that vote counted," Nixon said, adding that it was "unacceptable to impede or discourage citizens from voting who have lawfully cast ballots their entire adult lives."
A coalition of groups — including the NAACP, the AARP, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union — had called for Nixon to veto the photo ID legislation. They threatened legal action if the bill was signed into law.
"We applaud Gov. Nixon," said state Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights. "The only thing this bill did was ensure that registered voters wouldn't be allowed to vote. That isn't democracy. That is voter suppression."
The vetoed legislation also would have created a nine-day early voting period for Missouri elections. Democrats, including Nixon, have long supported expanded early voting.
The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, has previously said that if Nixon vetoed the photo ID bill, it's unlikely the early voting provision will be included in future legislation.
In a statement shortly after Nixon's veto, Stouffer said the governor made the decision because "less secure elections will only benefit him next November."
Supporters of the bill have argued that it is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Critics contend there have never been instances of the type of voter fraud that the bill aimed to prevent.
House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said he was "extremely disappointed" in the veto and pledged to lead an attempt to override it.
"His action undoes months of work by my fellow legislators who put together a bill meant to preserve the integrity of the voting process without putting an undue burden on voters," Tilley said in a statement.
The Legislature can override a veto if it musters a two-thirds majority of each body. But the legislation did not pass the Missouri House with enough votes needed for an override, and House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, said his party will not back down.
"With House Democrats unified on this issue, we are confident that any attempt by House Republicans to override the governor's veto will fail," Talboy said.
The Legislature has already overridden one of Nixon's vetoes this year, voting on May 4 to keep in place a U.S. House redistricting plan that the governor tried to nix. It was the first time a Missouri governor's veto had been overridden since 2003.
Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said requiring a photo ID to vote is a "common sense proposal" that has been demonized by Democrats. He wants lawmakers to revisit the issue before voters go to the polls in November 2012.
"This was an important bill to safeguard our elections, and it was specifically designed to provide, at no cost, low-income Missourians with the identification they would need to cast their ballots," he said.
Nixon joins two other Democratic governors, Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, in vetoing photo ID bills passed earlier this year.