JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Republicans may have muscled through a voter ID law on Wednesday, but their veto session victory could be relatively short-lived, if court rulings in other states are any indication.
Before any court challenges can be filed, however, voters will have their say. The vetoed law overridden by lawmakers this week is tied to a referendum on Nov. 8, when Missouri voters will be asked whether to amend the state constitution to require voter identification. If they approve, the law would go into effect in 2017.
At issue is whether requiring Missouri residents to present a photo identification before voting disenfranchises certain groups, including people of color, the elderly, the poor and students. Missouri Republicans, like their GOP counterparts in other states, argue that showing a photo ID is a common-sense way to prevent voter fraud.
Democrats say voter fraud isn’t a pervasive problem, and that voter ID legislation is merely a way to suppress minority voters who tend to support more liberal candidates. Recently, courts throughout the country have agreed.
A federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law in July, ruling that the measure targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against reinstating it the following month.
A U.S. district judge threw out part of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law, ruling that “a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections.”
On similar grounds, a federal appeals court tossed Texas’ voter ID law on July 20.
With these rulings and others, the future of voter ID in Missouri remains murky.
Sponsoring state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, said Missouri’s law is more palatable than other states’ because of a provision that allows voters without a photo ID to sign a statement at the polls, swearing that they are who they say they are under penalty of perjury. Their vote then still counts so long as their signature matches the one on file.
“The statement makes sure no one is disenfranchised at all,” Kraus said.
Still, Republicans are bracing themselves for a fight in court.
“Based on what’s going on around the country, I assume there’ll be some court action,” said Senate President Ron Richard, R-Joplin, on Wednesday. Republicans hoped that putting an amendment before voters would be “sufficient enough to make the courts happy,” he added. “That’s why we went the extra mile.”
David Mitchell, a University of Missouri law professor who is an expert on voter identification laws and policies, said he expects lawsuits to be filed against the legislation because it deprives people of a fundamental right to vote.
But he acknowledged the constitutional amendment was a strategic move.
“It’s for the same reason they pushed Missouri’s own constitutional amendment for the right to bear arms,” Mitchell said. “It’s a harder burden to overcome once it’s part of the state constitution.”
Still, Mitchell said, it’s ironic in part that it will be going before voters who already know they are eligible.
“If there are folks who think with yesterday’s actions they cannot vote already, they won’t show up,” Mitchell said. “People have to read the fine print to find out this is going to be on the ballot.”