JEFFERSON CITY — Dealt a setback in court, a Missouri House committee acted quickly Tuesday to embrace new wording for a 2012 ballot measure that would allow a photo identification mandate to be imposed upon voters in future elections.
The measure approved by the House Elections Committee seeks to rewrite the ballot summary voters would see when deciding later this year whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow a state law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls.
As originally passed by lawmakers last year, the ballot summary referred to the measure as the Voter Protection Act.
Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce struck down that summary last week, taking particular issue with the fact that the phrase Voter Protection Act never appears in the actual text of the proposed constitutional amendment. The judge's written decision also noted that regardless of the proposed constitutional amendment, the legislature already has authority to enact an early voting period, and the ballot proposal would place restrictions on that.
Joyce said she struck down the ballot summary to provide lawmakers an opportunity to revise it.
The revision approved by the House panel would drop any reference to the Voter Protection Act from the ballot summary. Instead, the summary would state: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to create standards for enacting general laws that authorize advance voting, require the use of government-issued photo identification in order to vote, and govern voting procedures based on whether an individual is voting in person or by absentee ballot."
The revised summary still must be approved by the full House and Senate.
Some opponents of a photo identification requirement questioned Tuesday whether the revised summary was good enough.
Ron Berry, a legislative liaison for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, told lawmakers there was no precedent for them to use a "House concurrent resolution" — which typically lacks the effect of law — to change the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment passed in a previous year.
Denise Lieberman, an attorney with the Advancement Project voting rights group that challenged the original ballot summary, said she would continue to fight the measure in court unless lawmakers adopt a summary indicating the measure would strip away some of the voting rights currently provided by the Missouri Constitution.
Lawmakers are pursuing a proposed constitutional amendment specifically allowing a photo identification requirement because the state Supreme Court struck down a 2006 law that would have mandated photo ID for voters. The court said that law infringed upon on the fundamental right to vote contained in the state constitution.
St. Louis attorney Burt Newman, who challenged the 2006 law, testified to the House committee Tuesday that he thinks the latest measure still contains constitutional flaws and thus is a waste of taxpayer time and money.
"We have reached a point where this is turning into a legislative fiasco," Newman said. "How many times do you need to be told 'no' by legal authorities before it is recognized that in this state photo ID legislation is not going to become law?"
Newman's wife, Rep. Stacey Newman, joined the other two Democrats on the committee in voting against the revised ballot summary. All the Republicans on the committee supported the measure.
Committee Chairman Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said his panel heard testimony and voted on the bill on the same day because there is an urgency to act before the session ends May 18.
"The issue cannot be placed on the November ballot until we get it fixed," Dugger said. So "we need to move forward with it as quickly as we can."