JEFFERSON CITY • The question of whether voters should have to carry a photo ID to the polls could be decided on the ballot in 2014.
The Missouri House on Thursday approved measures to require photo identification, but the changes to the state’s constitution require approval by voters. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he would like to put the issue to a vote of the people.
Proponents of a requirement that voters present a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot argue it will increase the integrity of the election process. Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, sponsored the constitutional amendment.
“We deserve the protection of photo identification at the moment the vote is cast,” Cox said.
But opponents point out there has not been a documented case of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri in years. They insist that the measure would create an obstacle to voting, particularly for some traditionally Democratic supporters. Accusations of racism and comparisons to a poll tax and literacy test were brought up during House debate on Tuesday. Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, said the intent of these efforts was clear.
“It’s not about purifying the voting process, it’s about purging some people from being able to vote,” Ellington said.
Opponents also said it would be too costly for some to gather the documents needed to get a photo ID they don’t currently have. Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, estimates that 220,000 registered voters would not have the necessary identification. Kander opposes the bill.
The measure, which would be implemented only if both the bill and the constitutional change are passed, specifically lays out the type of identification required. Expired student and out-of-state IDs would not be accepted. That would give Missouri one of the most restrictive photo ID laws in the country, alongside Indiana and Texas.
Voter ID laws are being challenged in several states, including Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. A Pennsylvania state judge struck down the photo identification law for voters there in January. That case is expected to go to the state’s Supreme Court.
Missouri’s Supreme Court struck down a 2006 voter photo ID requirement because it placed a burden on residents’ “free exercise of the right of suffrage.” Ballot language to allow for photo ID was struck down in 2012 by a Cole County judge.
The bill does provide for a free ID to be paid for by the state for people who cannot afford one. But any documents needed to verify the person’s identity would not be covered. Birth certificates and marriage licenses could be located in different states and difficult or expensive for some to obtain, opponents argue.
Bill sponsor Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said the bill lists exemptions and allows a provisional ballot to be cast if the voter doesn’t have identification on election day. He said everyone legally registered would still be able to vote.
“I don’t want to disenfranchise any single individual,” Dugger said.
The bill is HB 1073. The constitutional amendment is HJR 47.