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Nixon vetoes government photo ID requirement implementation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 19, 2011 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed today the bill designed to implement a separate proposed constitutional amendment that is yet to be voted on. The amendment would require that all Missouri voters show a government-issued photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot.

The veto by Nixon does not affect the proposed constitutional amendment, which will be on a 2012 ballot. The amendment is required because the state Supreme Court ruled several years ago that an earlier measure requiring a photo ID -- advanced by Republicans -- violated the state's constitution.

Nixon's action kills off the separate implementation bill that laid out how the requirement would be put into effect, should voters approve it. The General Assembly can attempt to override his veto or come up with a different implementation plan.

Nixon's veto generated a standing ovation of approval at Friday night's Democratic Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in St. Louis, where Democratic officials and attendees contended that the bill was targeting the elderly, the disabled, students and low-income voters -- voting blocs that often lean Democratic.

Voting-rights Groups laud Veto, While Gop Decries It

Top Missouri Republicans condemned the governor's action. State Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton and one of the bill's sponsors, said he was "disappointed the governor rejected a bipartisan plan to make every vote count in Missouri. It is time for our election laws to enter the 21st century. My gut tells me he is thinking less secure elections will only benefit him next November."

House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, asserted, "If we're going to be serious about preventing voter fraud, we need to require photo identification at the polling place."

The Republican Party echoed Stouffer's and Tilley's views.

"It is disappointing that Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that passed with bipartisan support to protect the lawful vote of every Missourian and make it easier to vote prior to Election Day," said Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party. "Requiring a photo ID to vote is a common sense proposal that enjoys vast support across the state and nation. Through his action, Nixon has preemptively circumvented the will of the people, who will vote on this proposal next year. We hope the General Assembly will revisit this issue in the near term."

State House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, lauded Nixon's action, saying, "Gov. Nixon is to be commended for protecting Missourians' right to vote by vetoing an unnecessary photo voter identification requirement that would do nothing to prevent fraud but potentially disenfranchise more than 200,000 legally registered voters. With House Democrats unified on this issue, we are confident that any attempt by House Republicans to override the governor's veto will fail."

Denise Lieberman, senior attorney and member of a voter protection advocacy group, said, "Gov. Nixon's veto protects the rights of all Missouri voters and goes a long way to ensure that all eligible voters are able to cast a ballot. The governor's action today sends the message that no Missouri voter should be relegated to second-class citizenship solely because they do not have or cannot get a state ID."

On Saturday, the Missouri League of Women Voters also applauded Nixon's decision. 

In a statement, the league says, in part, "...Missouri currently has identification standards for voting that have worked for years and there is no evidence of fraud that this new restriction would have prevented.  Because the Legislature included a limited early voting provision on this same bill, it will also not go into effect.  League of Women Voters of Missouri (and the Governor) are in favor of a good early voting policy, but there is time for the legislature, with input from election officials and citizens, to craft such a provision in future legislation that can stand (or fall) on its own merits."

Nixon Cites Impact on Elderly, Disabled

In his veto letter, Nixon said he objected to the photo ID requirement because "this new mandate would disproportionately impact senior citizens and persons with disabilities, among others, who are qualified to vote and have been lawfully voting since becoming eligible to do so, but are less likely to have a driver's license or government-issued photo ID. Disenfranchising certain classes of persons is not acceptable."

The governor said that the implementation bill (House Committee Substitute No. 2 for Senate Bill No. 3) also sets up inadequate alternatives. The measure first requires that people without a government-issued photo ID "execute a legally binding affidavit explaining why they lack a government-issued photo ID," Nixon said.

Such would-be voters then would be given a provisional ballot "that will not be counted unless the election authority compares their signature on the affidavit with their signature on file -- a signature that may bear little resemblance to their current signature because it was written decades before -- and determines that the two signatures match.

"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," the governor said.

People seeking to get a government-issued photo ID also have to "navigate a costly and time-consuming process" to get one, Nixon said, referring to the requirements that people show a birth certificate or passport a state ID.

The secretary of state's office has estimated that at least 170,000 registered voters in Missouri lack a driver's license.

The vetoed bill would not allow student IDs, even with a photo, to count as a government-issued ID.

The one element of the measure supported by Democrats allowed for nine days of early voting before an election, which Missouri does not now have. Voters can cast early absentee ballots, but only if they meet the specific requirements now in state law.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.