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Missouri Legislators Once Again Consider Photo-ID Mandate For Voters

A touch-screen voting machine. Most voters in St. Louis County are expected to use the touch-screen machines in tomorrow's municipal elections.
(via Flickr/lowjumpingfrog)
A touch-screen voting machine. Most voters in St. Louis County are expected to use the touch-screen machines in tomorrow's municipal elections.

The decade-long effort to require photo IDs in Missouri voting booths is once again under way in the General Assembly, although it’s unclear if the chances are any brighter.

State Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, is once again the chief sponsor of the two-pronged campaign to mandate government-issued photo IDs at the polls. “I am 100 percent sure that voter impersonation fraud is taking place in the state of Missouri,’’ he said a hearing Tuesday before a House committee.

State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, is  among the opposition leaders who say there’s been no proof of such fraud. They say that Dugger is targeting certain groups of Democratic-leaning voters – including students and minorities – who are less likely to have the types of photo IDs his legislation requires.

The photo ID backers are more confident about their chances this year, since Republicans – the leaders of the effort --  amassed larger majorities in the General Assembly in the November elections.

Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, has said that roughly 200,000 Missouri voters lack the types of photo IDs that Dugger’s bill would require.

Constitutional amendment is required

Under Dugger’s bill, the only allowable photo IDs at the polls would be those issued by the state of Missouri or the U.S. government. Such IDs include unexpired drivers licenses, passports and military identification.

Critics note that voters would need birth certificates to obtain such IDs, and obtaining such documents costs time and money. Dugger said that his bill contains exemptions for people who can't afford birth certificates, have religious objections to photo IDs or were born before 1950, when not all births were recorded with the state.

Such people would be allowed to cast provisional ballots, but their votes wouldn't be counted if the proper documentation wasn't provided within 72 hours after Election Day.

On average, only about 30 percent of the state's provisional votes end up being counted. Dugger says that means many of those would-be voters weren't qualified to cast ballots, while Newman maintains legitimate voters were unfairly disenfranchised.

In any case, the specifics of the photo-ID requirements hinge on two other legislative actions:

  • The General Assembly would need to allocate state money to cover the costs for free photo IDs for people without drivers licenses or passports;
  • Legislators would have to win voter approval of a constitutional amendment allowing the photo ID requirement.

The earliest such a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment could be held would be in 2016, a presidential election year. That means that even if voters approved the photo ID mandate, it likely wouldn’t go into effect statewide until 2018.
Courts tossed out 2006 bill

The General Assembly first passed a photo ID mandate in 2006, but it was tossed out by the Missouri Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Since then, annual efforts have failed to put a photo-ID constitutional amendment proposal before voters.

In 2011, the General Assembly did pass an implementation bill along the lines of Dugger’s bill. But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it, noting that voters had yet to approve a constitutional amendment.

Since then, legislative leaders generally have said that the constitutional amendment needs to be approved by voters first before the General Assembly focuses on legislation laying out how it would work.

Last year, the photo-ID effort got caught up in a complicated deal near the end of the legislative session. Republicans agreed to drop the photo-ID bill and a measure curbing union rights, in exchange for Democratic agreements not to block GOP-backed legislation to allow early voting and to require a 72-hour waiting period for most abortions.

This session, all sides say it’s too early to predict whether Republican legislative leaders will press to get a photo-ID proposal before voters – or use the issue, once again, as a bargaining chip with Democrats.

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.