JEFFERSON CITY — As a candidate, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denounced a proposed photo identification requirement for voters as an "onerous requirement."
Now that he is governor, Nixon will have to decide whether to follow through with his earlier convictions and veto legislation that would implement a photo identification requirement. The catch is that the measure is paired with a provision allowing an early voting period before elections — a proposal that Nixon supports.
The politically sticky situation for Nixon is the result of some maneuvering by Republican legislative leaders who for years have sought to implement a photo ID requirement for voters but had resisted efforts to allow a period during which people can cast ballots — with no absentee excuse needed — before the official election day.
This year, lawmakers passed a pair of measures on the subject. They referred a proposed constitutional amendment to the 2012 ballot that, if approved by voters, would authorize both a photo ID mandate and an early voting period. They also passed a bill, which is pending before Nixon, to place specific details on both prongs of the voting law changes into state statute.
Although Nixon can't affect the proposed constitutional amendment, he could veto the corresponding legislation — effectively preventing the law from taking effect if voters chose to amend the state constitution.
Nixon declined to say Friday whether he will sign or veto the legislation. But he has indicated in the past that he doesn't like a photo ID requirement for voters.
While a candidate for governor in May 2008, Nixon said that a proposed photo ID mandate would make it harder for Missourians to vote. He also issued a written statement at the time saying that "as elected leaders, we should work to increase voting and participation in the democratic process, not create new unnecessary roadblocks."
Asked Friday if he still stands by this campaign comments, Nixon replied: "I said what I said. Obviously, we're always trying to work to make voting as easy and efficient for people as possible. It's an important part of democracy."
Nixon did reiterate his support for the early voting period.
Although Missouri governors can use a line-item veto on budget bills, they do not have the authority to veto only part of a regular piece of legislation. That means Nixon must either accept both the early voting and voter ID provisions or reject them both.
State Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, is among many of Nixon's fellow Democrats who would prefer he spike the legislation.
"I think the voter ID is just too big of a problem to let early voting win out," Lampe said.
Democrats contend that requiring government-issued photo identification could discourage or prevent some people from voting.
A 2006 law that required 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 is 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.
Yet Republicans contend a photo ID requirement only makes sense, noting that some hotels, package shippers and other businesses already ask to see photo IDs from customers. The 2011 version of the measure is intended to get around the court's concerns by amending the constitution to specifically allow a photo ID requirement.
But the photo ID mandate may still have difficulty getting around Nixon's concerns. The governor said the bill will be brought up for review by his office soon.
"The basic philosophy is it should be easier for people to vote," Nixon said.
David A. Lieb has covered government and politics for The Associated Press since 1995.