JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri House committee considered a proposal Tuesday that could require people to show a photo ID before casting a ballot but allow them to vote before Election Day.
A proposed constitutional amendment would allow lawmakers to eventually pass bills to require voters to show a photo ID and create an advance voting period. A separate bill would set up at least one early voting center in Kansas City, St. Louis and all 114 counties.
Missouri residents currently must provide identification to vote, but it does not need to include a personal picture or be issued by the government. People can vote early through absentee ballots but must explain why they cannot vote on Election Day.
Lawmakers have debated early voting and photo ID requirements for the past several years. Generally, Democrats have touted advance voting and Republicans have called for a photo ID requirement. The Legislature approved a photo ID law in 2006, but the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.
Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, who has pushed for the photo ID requirement, said voters should be required to prove their identity to ensure legitimate votes are not diluted by fraud. Democrats say requiring photo IDs could disenfranchise thousands who do not have identification and would not solve any documented fraud problems.
"We have a solution in search of a problem," said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.
Cox said renting movies, getting on airplanes and other daily activities demand that people identify themselves with a government-issued photo ID. He said fraud is a problem in Missouri elections even if it has not been documented.
"If you commit a fraud, you don't publicize that fraud," Cox said.
Discussion over legislation that would set up an early voter system was more bipartisan. Most states already allow early voting without requiring an explanation from voters.
Sponsoring Rep. John Diehl, a Republican and former St. Louis County elections official, said it is more convenient for some voters to cast ballots early. He said spreading out voting could make Election Day easier on local election officials and that some Missouri voting jurisdictions essentially permit it already.
"It is dubious in some counties whether or not excuse absentee voting has devolved into de facto non-excuse (early voting)," said Diehl, of Town and Country.
Diehl's legislation would create weeklong advance voting periods that end the week before Election Day for any general or primary election in which ballots are cast for president or a statewide office. The polls would be open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Counties would be reimbursed by the state for the cost of the early voting periods.
Mark Rhoads, a lobbyist for the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities, said it is particularly important that the state pay for early voting because local governments are facing tight budgets.
"We don't want to end up with another program — another mandate — without funding," he said.
Some county clerks previously have been critical of allowing early voting, but Rhoads did not take a formal position Tuesday.
Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who is responsible for overseeing elections, has urged lawmakers to allow early voting, and criticized attempts to require photo IDs. Carnahan's chief deputy, Rich Lamb, told the House Elections Committee on Tuesday that the secretary of state's office would like two weeks of advance voting with a greater emphasis on putting polling places where there are more registered voters.