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Missouri House gives final approval to bills requiring government-issued photo IDs for voters

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2013 - The Missouri House has once again resurrected the Republican-led effort to require government-issued photo IDs for voters, by giving final approval Thursday morning to two companion measures.

One is a resolution asking Missouri voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing such a requirement, while the second is an implementation bill laying out the procedures and requirements.

After hours of spirited debate Wednesday, the House's first-round votes were 108-46 in favor of the resolution, and 106-48 in favor of the implementation bill. Final voice votes were taken Thursday;  both measures now head to the state Senate.

The resolution would not need Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature.  A constitutional amendment is needed because the Missouri Supreme Court tossed out an earlier photo-ID mandate in 2006 on the grounds that it violated the state’s constitution.

Nixon’s signature would be needed on the implementation bill; he has vetoed earlier ones.  Wednesday’s House vote was short of the 109 needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, came out Thursday against the measures, particularly the implementation bill, which he called "an overly restrictive piece of legislation that would disenfranchise thousands of eligible Missourians."

Kander added, "even supporters of this legislation admitted there has not been a reported case of voter impersonation fraud in our state."

The GOP target is to get the proposed amendment to the constitution before Missouri voters in 2014. General Assembly succeeded in 2012 to pass a resolution seeking a constitutional amendment, but a legal fight over its wording kept the measure off last fall’s ballot.

Wednesday’s debate trod familiar ground. Republican backers said a photo ID requirement is needed to guard against fraud, with some asserting that outstate Missourians believe that statewide elections have been stolen because of alleged fraud in urban areas;  St. Louis often was singled out.

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, was the sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment and called it “a common-sense solution to a real problem.”

Opponents, virtually all Democrats, disagreed and called the proposals “a solution in search of a problem.”  Critics contended that the real GOP aim was to block or discourage from voting certain voting blocs – notably minorities, students and the disabled – who are deemed likely to support Democrats.

Voters currently must show identification in Missouri, but various forms are allowed and no photo is required.

The implementation bill would restrict the allowed photo IDs to:  drivers licenses, special state-produced identification cards, and military ID cards. No other ID would be allowed.

The bill does allow people without the photo-ID identification to cast provisional ballots that could be counted later if the identification of the would-be voter is verified.

The bill would grant exceptions for people:

-- born in 1940 or earlier;

-- with “a physical or mental disability or handicap;”

-- who hold “a sincerely held religious belief” against photo IDs;

-- unable to pay for : “a birth certificate or other supporting documentation that is necessary to obtain the identification…”

The chief sponsor of the implementation bill, state Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said he was confident no legitimate Missouri voters would be harmed by his bill.

Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, disagreed, and asserted that Republicans are misconstruing what most Missourians think about the photo-ID mandate.

Ellinger said Republicans should take note of last fall’s victory by Kander for secretary of state, who narrowly defeated Republican Shane Schoeller.

Kander, said Ellinger, had focused primarily on the voter ID issue. Kander had hammered at Schoeller’s unsuccessful effort to bar mail-in absentee votes, which Kander said would have disenfranchised Missourians in the military and serving overseas.

Ellinger’s point was that Missouri voters might not be as receptive to the GOP photo-ID restrictions as Republicans may believe. Wednesday’s overwhelming approval of the two companion bills indicates that Republican legislators believe the public sides with them.

(UPDATE) On Thursday, the Reverend Issac McCullough of St. Louis -- a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers in Action -- issued a statement contending that the aim was voter suppression.

“Faith leaders in my state worked hard in the months leading up to November to get our communities to the polls," McCullough said. "It is disheartening to see that some of our representatives yet again want to discourage, rather than encourage, people from voting... That’s not what our democracy is supposed to be about. As faith leaders, we have fought hard to protect the right to vote – and we are not about to give up that fight anytime soon.” (End of update)

Kander called Thursday for the General Assembly to focus on other matters -- notably, Missouri's lack of restrictions on campaign donations or gifts from lobbyists.

“Instead of spending time working on solutions for a problem that might not even exist, I ask the Senate to put aside the House’s legislation and work on a bill to take on the true fraud in our elections, our campaign finance laws," Kander said. "We are the only state in the nation that has the combination of allowing unlimited campaign contributions and unlimited lobbyist gifts. There is bipartisan agreement in the Senate to take on this issue, so I hope they get to work to end that unfortunate distinction.” (End update)

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.