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Photo ID, early voting to appear on Missouri ballot

Monday, May 9, 2011 | 8:08 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri voters will get to decide whether they should be required to show photo identification and whether it should be easier to cast an early ballot.

State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to a two-part measure that, if approved by voters in 2012, would amend the state constitution to allow for laws creating an early voting period and a photo ID mandate.

Republican lawmakers generally back the photo ID requirement; Democratic lawmakers generally support the early voting period. The Senate voted to send the package to Missouri's ballot by a 25-9 vote; the House passed it 102-55 last week.

The measure marks Missouri's second attempt in several years to add a photo identification requirement to voting.

A 2006 law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID was struck down by the state Supreme Court as an infringement on the fundamental right to vote that's contained in the state constitution. The court particularly took issue with the cost of obtaining documents — such as a birth certificate or passport — needed to obtain a free state photo ID card.

The new measure is intended to get around the court's concerns by amending the constitution to specifically allow a photo ID requirement.

St. Louis attorney Burt Newman, who challenged the 2006 law, has vowed to also challenge any new photo ID mandate. Newman claims photo IDs cannot be required for existing registered voters, because a separate Missouri constitutional provision prohibits laws from being applied retroactively.

Republicans argue photo IDs would help prevent voter fraud.

"We have very close elections here in Missouri, and I think it's important that the public is secure in knowing that those who voted were the ones they said they were," said the measure's sponsor, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, who plans to challenge Secretary of State Robin Carnahan in 2012.

Carnahan, who supports early voting, has said a photo ID mandate could disenfranchise some residents and is unnecessary because there have been no known cases of people impersonating other Missouri voters.

"Voting is a right protected by our state Constitution," Carnahan said Monday. "It is disappointing that, instead of addressing the real problems faced by our state, the Legislature is attempting to weaken the voting rights of all Missourians."

Missouri voters already have the option of showing a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID when they go to the polls. State law also allows voters to prove their identity with documents that do not contain photographs, such as copies of current utility bills, bank statements or paychecks listing their names and addresses.

Most Missourians currently vote on election day. The state allows absentee ballots to be cast in advance, but only in certain circumstances such as when people swear they are incapacitated by illness or disability or will be out of town on the day of the vote.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow a nine-day, no-excuse-needed voting period before election day in addition to the current absentee option. Supporters said it would restore honesty to Missouri's elections.

Under the current system, "we have all these people three weeks before the election going in and basically lying, saying 'I'm going to be out of town,' so they can do early voting," said Sen. Tim Green, D-Florissant.

If voters adopt the proposed constitutional amendment, a separate law would need to lay out the specific details of an early voting period and a photo identification requirement. Debate on such legislation stalled Monday in the Senate because of concerns by state Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, who objected to the early voting provision and an estimate that both efforts could cost several million dollars to implement.

Purgason argued that early voting would make it easier for uninformed people to vote, particularly in urban areas.

"Voting should not be in the same category as a lottery ticket, where all of the sudden I'm going to go vote today," Purgason said.

Missouri's annual legislative session ends Friday. If lawmakers do not pass a bill to implement the provisions of the constitutional amendment, they could still do so in subsequent years.


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