JEFFERSON CITY | Missouri Republicans took another step Tuesday towards advancing an idea that has been a legislative priority for several years: Mandating voters produce a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.
Following hours of debate stretching over parts of three days, the Missouri House gave the idea initial approval on a 104 to 54 vote. The bill must be approved once more before it goes to the Senate.
Supporters argue that requiring a photo ID to vote is necessary to prevent fraud, and question why photo identification should be routinely required to open a bank account or rent a move but not at polling sites.
"Getting a photo ID is not that hard to do," said House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, a Willard Republican and the legislation's sponsor. "Matter of fact, almost every single voter has some form of photo identification."
Critics counter that the requirement is a solution in search of a problem, since the type of fraud that such laws are intended to combat -- voter impersonation -- has never been reported in Missouri.
They also point out that Missouri voters are already required to provide some form of ID before casting a ballot, but the list includes some without a photo, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.
"I keep hearing that most folks have a photo ID," said Rep. Stacey Newman, a Democrat from Richmond Heights. "But our state constitution protects everyone, not just 'most folks.'"
But Democrats say there is a more partisan motivation for Republicans to push voter ID legislation.
"The purpose, or at least the effect of this legislation is keeping older, poorer, African American women from voting, because they have a propensity to vote Democratic," said Rep. Chris Kelly, a Columbia Democrat. "This bill is reprehensible, and I'm ashamed to be here today."
A 2009 study of a similar law in Indiana found that the measure reduces the opportunity to vote for minority, low-income, less-educated, and younger residents, who also tend to be correlated with Democratic partisanship. That's because much smaller percentages of those groups have access to a government-issued photo ID when compared to other groups, such as whites, middle class and middle-aged voters.
In Missouri, the secretary of state's office estimates that 253,496 registered voters do not have a government-issued photo ID on file with the Department of Revenue.
Schoeller's bill requires the state to cover the costs to provide a photo ID to anyone who needs one. And anyone who cannot produce a photo ID would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, Schoeller said. That ballot would be counted after an election official verifies their identity by comparing their signature with a signature on file.
"The only people this bill seeks to disenfranchise are those who seek to commit fraud," Schoeller said.
But casting a provisional ballot is not the same as casting a regular ballot. Provisional ballots can be disqualified many reasons, ranging from a signature not matching one on file to errors in how the ballot's affidavit is filled out.
In the 2008 general election, nearly 7,000 provisional ballots were cast in Missouri but only 1,700 were counted.
Missouri Republicans first passed a photo ID law in 2006 that was eventually struck down by the state Supreme Court. Last year, Republicans were able to pass a voter ID amendment to the state's constitution that will be on the ballot this fall. Legislation similar to Schoeller's bill that would implement the amendment also cleared the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.