JEFFERSON CITY — A voter photo identification requirement endorsed by a Missouri House committee was derided Tuesday by the head of the Legislative Black Caucus as a "voter suppression" measure akin to a poll tax.
The House Elections Committee approved a state constitutional amendment Tuesday that would ask voters whether to allow a photo ID requirement. The committee also approved a separate bill that would implement the constitutional amendment by requiring that voters show government-issued photo identification before casting ballots.
A photo ID already is one of several options that Missourians can show when going to vote, but it is not required. Voters also can identify themselves through such things as utility bills or bank statements. The measures sponsored by Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, would change that requirement to only allow a government-issued photo ID.
The 8-4 vote was along party lines, with Republicans arguing the photo ID requirement would increase transparency and reduce voter fraud. Democrats said there are no reports of voter impersonation and that the plan could disenfranchise voters.
Two hours after the committee endorsed the photo ID package, the Legislative Black Caucus held a news conference to state its opposition to the legislation. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, who chairs the caucus, accused the Republicans of engaging in "voter suppression" and said the photo ID requirement was akin to a poll tax.
"They want us to require voter IDs, but the Republicans refuse to deal with a background check when it comes to guns. ... We are talking about hypocrisy at its highest level," said Nasheed, D-St. Louis.
Cox said what he's proposing contains several safeguards and protections that would prevent disenfranchisement. Elderly and disabled people, those with religious objections and those who cannot afford the necessary documentation to get a state-issued photo ID would be allowed to sign an affidavit and cast a provisional ballot.
Nasheed said provisional ballots don't protect people's voting rights because a lot of those ballots are thrown out. Cox denies that charge.
"Eligible voters will be able to vote, even those who end up voting on a provisional ballot because the election authority will recognize that they are a lawful voter, so it is a backward argument," Cox said.
Both measures must pass through the House Rules Committee before they can be debated on the House floor.
The Republican-led Legislature first passed a voter photo ID requirement in 2006, but it was tossed out by the Missouri Supreme Court. Lawmakers tried again in 2011 by passing the photo ID law and a state constitutional amendment to address the court's objections. But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the photo ID law and the Cole County Circuit Court blocked the constitutional amendment from the ballot over concerns that its wording would mislead voters.