JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House on Tuesday endorsed a new attempt by the legislature requiring people to show photo identification at the polls while voters across the state were casting ballots in a presidential primary.
State lawmakers for years have debated whether Missouri should implement a photo ID requirement and generally have split along partisan lines. Republican supporters contend requiring people to show a photo ID is a common-sense guard against voter fraud. Democrats argue there have been no documented cases of voter impersonation in many decades and that the photo ID requirement could make voting harder for some, such as seniors and the disabled.
The House on Tuesday gave this year's photo ID legislation first-round approval along a party-line 104-54 vote. The measure needs another vote before moving to the Senate. As House members voted on the legislation, Missouri polls were open for the state's presidential primary — though its outcome will not be binding for Republicans who are holding caucuses next month.
Sponsoring the photo voter ID measure is House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, who is among the GOP candidates for secretary of state. He said a single vote in some elections can decide the outcome and that protecting the integrity of the ballot is vital. In addition, Republican lawmakers have argued that a photo ID is required for numerous other activities in daily life.
"I want to make it as burdensome as possible to anyone who is trying to cast a fraudulent ballot," said Schoeller, R-Willard.
Kansas City Rep. Jason Kander, a Democratic secretary of state candidate, said the measure is a solution searching for a problem and that it would bloat government bureaucracy.
"Politics is the only reason I can see why anyone who claims to be conservative would support this bill," Kander said.
Several members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus referenced family members who do not have birth certificates while opposing the legislation. Some called it equivalent to a "poll tax" that could make it harder for people to vote.
Missouri voters currently can show a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID when they go to the polls. But 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.
Under the legislation, Missouri voters could show a valid driver's license or other government-issued ID that has their picture. People who do not have that type of ID could vote using a provisional ballot after signing an affidavit that they could not obtain a photo ID because they could not afford the supporting documentation, were disabled, had religious beliefs against it or were born before 1941. The provisional ballots would be counted if the signature matches that on file with local election authorities.
A 2006 photo ID law signed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court as an unconstitutional infringement on the fundamental right to vote. Lawmakers last year sought to get around the high court's ruling by approving a constitutional amendment that allowed state laws dealing with photo IDs and early voting periods and then passing separate legislation to implement them.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the legislation, but the proposed constitutional amendment still could appear on this year's ballot. Opponents of the photo ID requirement have filed a lawsuit that seeks to block the measure from appearing on the ballot.