WHAT OTHERS SAY: A voter ID bill from a party that's lost its pride

Thursday, February 14, 2013 | 5:49 p.m. CST

Saturday will mark an important anniversary for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page: It was on Feb. 16, 2006, that we first ripped the Missouri legislature for trying to pass a voter identification bill, one that required voters to present a government-issued photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot.

We have ripped them over this issue at least a dozen more times in the seven years since then. Republicans keep trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist by suppressing the votes of hundreds of thousands of Missourians, most of whom are likely Democratic voters.

For a party that likes to drape itself in the flag, Missouri Republicans seem bound and determined to undermine the most basic right in a democracy. The GOP can’t win a national election the fair way, or many statewide elections either. So they figure to steal them instead.

Voter ID is back again this year (House Bills 48 and 216), having been passed by a House committee. It is shameful. The party ought to have a little pride.

In 2006, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a voter ID bill that was later thrown out by the courts. The idea was fraudulent in 2006, and it’s fraudulent now. There has never been a case in Missouri where a voter tried to impersonate someone else to cast a vote. Not once.

To which Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, a longtime proponent of voter ID laws told The Kansas City Star, “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

Right. And just because there’s never been a reported case of zombies overrunning Sedalia, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Do you think zombies advertise?

Then-Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the state’s chief elections official, estimated in 2008 that 240,000 Missourians didn’t have the kind of photo ID that the bill would have required.

Richard G. Callahan, then a Cole County Circuit Court judge and now the U.S. attorney in St. Louis, threw out the 2006 law with these stinging words:

“The photo ID burden placed on the voter may seem minor or inconsequential to the mainstream of our society for whom automobiles, drivers licenses or even passports are a natural part of everyday life. However, for the elderly, the poor, the undereducated or otherwise disadvantaged, the burden can be great if not insurmountable, and it is those very people outside the mainstream of society who are the least equipped to bear the costs or navigate the many bureaucracies necessary to obtain the required documentation.”

The state Supreme Court upheld Judge Callahan’s decision. That should have been the end of it.

But the legislature messed around with the issue for four more years, returning with a vengeance in 2011, passing the same kind of bill. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed it. But those shrewd Republicans tried an end-run around Mr. Nixon, voting to put the question before voters last November. Before that could happen, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce struck it from the ballot.

This year, subtle House Elections Committee Chairman Sue Entlicher, R-Bolivar, scheduled a Jan. 29 hearing on the voter ID bill for 6:45 a.m. Since the Capitol building doesn’t open until 7 a.m., this would have kept the crowds down nicely.

Ms. Entlicher relented under criticism and held the hearing at 8 a.m. Last week, after another sneaky committee meeting just off the House floor, the committee sent the bill to the floor on an 8-4 party-line vote. 

On Thursday, the House approved a constitutional amendment that allows a photo ID requirement. Lawmakers then endorsed legislation to implement it. Both measures now move to the state Senate.

If passed, the law would become effective only if voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to enact voter ID laws. Mr. Nixon could veto it before then, but Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Surely Mr. Nixon would be able to peel off a few votes from Republicans who still have enough pride and honor not to want to steal elections.

Because the fact is that it wasn’t so long ago that Missouri Republicans actually wanted to see more people voting, not fewer. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, when he was Missouri’s secretary of state from 1985 to 1993, actually experimented with voting by mail. In his first year as secretary of state in 2001, Mr. Blunt’s son, Matt Blunt, proposed a package of reform measures, including an early voting period.

Matt Blunt must have then received a rocket from the national GOP headquarters telling him to back off. He didn’t push his reforms in his last three years as secretary of state. And when he was governor in 2006, he happily signed the voter ID bill that was later thrown out by Judge Callahan.

There have been voter fraud cases in Missouri, but it’s been registration fraud, not voter impersonation fraud. The larger problems have involved long lines and disqualified voters, precisely the same sort of voter suppression strategies employed around the country by GOP operatives.

If Mr. Cox and his Republican allies in the Legislature truly are concerned about the “sanctity of the vote,” they’d pass early voting legislation and allow no-excuse absentee voting. We shall not hold our breath.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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