Missouri senators debate bill requiring photo ID to vote

Monday, January 24, 2011 | 9:35 p.m. CST; updated 10:33 p.m. CST, Monday, January 24, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — A law declared unconstitutional in 2006 reappeared in the state Capitol Monday as a Senate committee heard arguments about requiring photo identification at the voting booth.

The Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee focused on elections. Sens. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, sponsored the legislation, which aims to require voters to provide government-issued photo identification when they vote in a public election.

In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled a similar law unconstitutional because it "represents a substantial and heavy burden on Missourians' free exercise of their fundamental right to vote."

Stouffer, however, justified the renewal of the legislation with support from a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling about a case in Indiana. Stouffer said the Indiana statute was ruled to be "amply justified by the valid interest and protecting the integrity and reliability of the election process."

This "reliability" refers to the possibility of voter fraud. However, according to an election report from the secretary of state's office, there has never been an instance of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri.

This proposed law contains safeguards to protect those who are unable to obtain a government-issued ID because of financial means or lack of documentation. For example, citizens born before 1941 are not required to provide a birth certificate, and the state will fund the cost of the identification for citizens unable to afford it. 

"Our constitution recognizes the right to be sure that everybody voting is on the same ground as everybody else," Stouffer said. "We're not trying to exclude anybody."

Stouffer's remark did not comfort St. Louis lawyer and activist Denise Lieberman. Lieberman, citing a report by the secretary of state, said 230,000 eligible registered Missouri voters lack qualifying identification.

"Not only does the legislation fail to contain sufficient safeguards to protect the right to vote for already-registered and eligible voters who lack sufficient identification, it is unnecessary, expensive and irresponsible in the midst of the budget crisis we are facing in this state," Lieberman said. "Missouri already requires voters to present identification. In fact, Missouri's voter identification law is already stricter than corresponding laws in more than 50 percent of the states."

Missouri voters must provide a form of personal identification at their polling place, which can either be issued by the government or a state educational institution. This includes a copy of the voter's utility bill, paycheck or bank statement, or a state identification card.

Seven representatives from various groups responded against the proposal; no one spoke in favor of the legislation.

Among those against the proposed law was St. Louis attorney Burt Newman, who argued in the 2006 Missouri Supreme Court case. He addressed the law as "fatally defective" based on the state constitution.

"The section prohibits a law that creates a new obligation, imposes a new duty or enacts a new disability," Newman said. "It also prohibits a law that impairs a vested right. The Supreme Court said there is a vested right, there is a fundamental right, in the state of Missouri to vote."

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Paul Allaire January 25, 2011 | 9:59 a.m.

Oh well, maybe if we find a favorable judge it won't be unconstitutional this time...

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