JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A photo voter ID measure passed out of the House Elections Committee despite the fact that no one testified in favor of the legislation.
Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, sponsored the bill, which has wide support among Republicans. However, of the citizens who testified in the committee hearing, every one of them opposed such a measure for fear it would disenfranchise minorities, women, the poor, the elderly, transgender people and the disabled who may not be able to obtain identification as easily as others. Many of those who argued in opposition called the bill an impediment to exercise their right to vote.
Rod Chapel, in his first time testifying as the president of the Missouri NAACP Conference, noted that his organization opposed such a measure, classifying it as an unconstitutional poll tax.
“The idea that you should go to pay money… to enjoy a constitutional right is one that has already been struck down by the Supreme Court,” he said.
Chapel also alleged that a photo voter ID law would harken back to a “Jim Crow” era America, in which some states suppressed the ability of black people to vote.
“We have a lot of people who are well meaning, who are people of faith, who have the ability to do something legally, but ought not be done,” Chapel said. “Taking away someone’s ability to participate in the political process, frankly, it takes away their personhood.”
Photo voter ID has been a controversial subject around the nation for years. The stated intent of the legislation, which has become prominent in conservative states, is to reduce certain types of voter fraud, most notably voter impersonation. Yet, questions still remain as to whether or not photo voter ID would actually stop voter fraud in the state. From 2000 to 2012, Missouri had only 17 cases of alleged voter fraud, according to a study by Arizona State University’s Walter Kronkite School of Journalism. Fifteen of those cases were registration fraud and the other two were cases of double voting, which photo voter ID would not be able to stop.
Federal circuit judge Richard Posner noted in his 2013 book, Reflections on Judging, “There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.”
Yet others argue that these analyses do not paint a truthful picture. Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation noted that multiple studies found no link between photo voter ID laws and voter participation.
“Despite many false claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that voter ID decreases the turnout of voters or has a disparate impact on minority, poor, or elderly voters; the overwhelming majority of Americans have a photo ID or can easily obtain one,” he wrote in a 2011 report.
Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Independence, clarified that the intent of the legislation was not to disenfranchise people
“It may be an unintended consequence, but it’s not the intent,” he said.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, took exception to the notion that this legislation would hurt minorities given that polling showed African-Americans supported such legislation. Chapel argued that polls had actually favored his assessment.
Rev. Cassandra Gould, the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, agreed with Chapel.
“Color may not be written into the language, but it is certain to effectively erode the rights that people that look like me died for,” she said.
The idea of discrimination resulting from photo voter ID laws may have some grounding in reality. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last August that Texas’ photo voter ID law, considered one of the strictest in the country, had a “discriminatory effect” even though the court could not decide if the law was created with the intent of discrimination.
Jeanette Mott Oxford, the executive director of Empower Missouri, argued that those living in poverty could also face the brunt of the legislation, and effectively be disenfranchised from voting.
“Getting a photo ID can be almost impossible for people with no discretionary income, little access to transportation, and long distances between themselves and sites where IDs can be obtained,” Oxford said.
Committee chair Sue Entlicher, R-Bolivar, noted that should the House overlook anything that may lead to disenfranchisement, the issue could easily be sorted out by the Senate.
“I want everybody to vote that can vote, and I’m sure the Senate side will handle any kind of disenfranchisement that the House bill is going to pose for other people,” Entlicher said. “They have in the past.”