JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's top election official offered harsh criticism Tuesday for a proposal endorsed by a House panel that would make several election law changes, including requiring photo identification to vote.
In an earlier form, the proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution would have let future legislators pass a law requiring voters to show a state-issued photo ID.
As endorsed Tuesday by the House Elections Committee, however, the proposal specifically makes photo ID a requirement under the Missouri Constitution. The revised proposal also changes Missouri's absentee voting procedure and establishes a process for early voting.
The Republican-led committee endorsed the measure on a 7-5 party-line vote. It goes next to the House Rules Committee and, if passed by the House and Senate, would go before voters on a future statewide ballot, likely in 2010.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan called it "outrageous" that the committee endorsed "serious, sweeping" changes without a hearing on the revised proposal.
"I question whether folks even read this proposal before they voted on it," Carnahan said. "It is shockingly irresponsible for folks who are supposed to be protecting our voting system."
Republican Rep. Stanley Cox of Sedalia, the measure's sponsor, said "it certainly makes a lot of sense" to have part of the Missouri Constitution dedicated to elections. He defended his package as a collection of items that the Elections Committee had discussed earlier this year.
Republican proponents of voter photo IDs have switched to proposing constitutional amendments after the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a 2006 statute requiring a photo ID as an unconstitutional burden on voting rights.
Carnahan and other Democrats have strongly opposed voter photo ID proposals, arguing they would disenfranchise older and minority voters who might not have a state-issued photo identification.
Carnahan's office has compared state voter rolls with driver license lists and estimates that roughly 200,000 voters don't have a state identification card.
Cox, who has proposed voter photo ID legislation in the past, says the change is a commonsense way to prevent fraud. He said his proposal would give people a free ID if they need one to vote.
His proposal also includes an early voting system. People would be able to vote two weeks before Election Day between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and until noon on Saturdays.
Cox's proposal would create an early voting center in each county. A different bill supported by many Democrats would give urban areas more polling places.
Cox said pairing voter photo ID with early voting might allow the proposal to clear the Senate, which has stalled voter photo ID legislation in the past.
"It might be the right time, the right moment, and it might actually pass," he said.
Early voting is also a priority for Carnahan, but she said including it in the proposed constitutional amendment won't garner her support.
"There's nothing that makes these kind of sweeping constitutional changes that harm people's right to vote acceptable to me," she said.
Some Senate Democrats also have said they are unwilling to consider a proposal that includes both voter photo ID and early voting.
Carnahan said the proposed constitutional amendment also would make voting more difficult for people who have disabilities or are serving in the military.
She pointed to an absentee voting system for the permanently disabled that is used by 14,500 people and a law that allows soldiers serving in combat areas to fax or e-mail their ballots back to election officials.
Cox said Carnahan is mistaken about the absentee changes and that his proposal incorporates current law on absentee voting.
But the proposal is missing sections of current law creating the disabled voter list and allowing service members to send ballots electronically. The proposal also would void all other current laws authorizing people to vote by absentee ballot.