by Collin Reischman
Jefferson City, MO — A proposed constitutional amendment permitting the use of photo ID requirements to vote was presented to the Financial & Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee on Monday, Jan 4.
The joint resolution, SJR 6, would amend the Missouri state Constitution to provide that an individual desiring to vote in person “may be required by general law to identify himself or herself as a United States Citizens and a resident of the state by producing valid, government-issued photo identification.”
Because the legislation requires a change to the state Constitution, the voters must approve it in the next election cycle. A similar bill, the Voter Protection Act, was invalidated by the state Supreme Court, who ruled it amounted to a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
Senator Will Kraus, sponsor of the bill, said the measure was meant to be a “proactive” step in ensuring “open, fair elections.”
“Most people in this state already think they need to have a photo ID to vote anyway,” Kraus said. “A significant number of voters present a photo ID under the assumption it is required by law.”
Accompanying the resolution is SB 27, which would codify new requirements for displaying a photo ID to cast a ballot. The language is almost identical to a 2011 bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.
Senator Joseph Keaveny said the law was unnecessary in the committee hearing, and questioned Kraus on the need for both an amendment and the new law.
“Has there been any case of voter fraud successfully prosecuted in this state?” Keaveny said to Kraus. Kraus responded that there had not, as far as he was aware, but any convictions.
In a heated exchange, Kraus pointed to the measure as a way of preventing possible future frauds, and ensuring more open elections where “one person gets one vote.”
“So, this is something we should pass even though we don’t need it just so you can sleep better at night?” Keaveny asked. “We should spend 3 or 4 million on this, just so you can feel comfortable about being proactive?”
Keaveny was referring to the cost, which rang from 0 to 3.4 million in the fiscal notes of the legislation. Kraus said the cost was difficult to calculate, and that approximately 200,000 Missourians did not have the necessary ID’s to vote, but that some of those adults may have moved or made changes to their eligibility since that number was calculated.
Testimony included Denise Lieberman, senior attorney for the Advancement Project — which focuses on voter rights and discrimination — and was critical of the bill.
“Under the bill, a senior citizen with no photo ID would be forced to fill out a provisional ballot and sign something to have their signature compared with their voter registration signature,” Lieberman said. “However, not only are provisional ballots often never counted and the methods of handling them far from uniform, but many seniors may not be able to duplicate their signature because of any number of medical maladies.”
Lieberman went on to say that the measure would keep seniors and the very poor, along with large minority populations, from acquiring the necessary ID to vote.
SB 27 includes language, which would require the state provide no cost photo ID’s to those who cannot meet the financial burden of purchasing one, and exempts any citizen born before 1941 from producing such an ID. The bill also provides exemptions for individuals with religious or moral objections to photo ID’s. However, the exemptions are conditional upon the individual signing a provisional ballot, which is verified against their voter-registration card signature before being officially tabulated.
Lieberman as well as the Democratic members of the senate were highly critical of the provisional ballots, calling them “disenfranchisement,” of low-income and elderly voters.
Senator Paul LeVota said the entire hearing felt like the movie “Groundhog Day.”
“I watched Groundhog Day the other day, and this is kind of what this thing feels like,” Levota said. “You know, it’s one man, doing the same thing over and over again. We’ve seen this legislation before, and we’ve seen it defeated before. What makes it different this time?”
Kraus told the committee that the issue polled very well and that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if a referendum received 75 percent of the popular vote. LeVota countered harshly.
“Well, campaign finance limits poll extremely well,” LeVota said. “And we’ve kind of stalled there, so popularity doesn’t always matter.”
Senators Dixon and Pearce defended the legislation as protecting the integrity of elections and denied accusations that it would disenfranchise voters.
“An elderly person who was unable to match a signature with their old registration card, they’d still be able to re-register with a new signature, right?” Pearce asked Lieberman during her testimony. “How is that disenfranchisement? If we’re providing the photo ID’s at no cost, where is the disenfranchisement?”
If approved, SJR 6 would become a referendum for the general election and SB 27 would codify the new ID requirements into law. Whether Nixon will seek to veto it as he’s done before, or whether the majority caucus has enough votes to surpass a veto, remains unclear.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.