JEFFERSON CITY — A renewed effort to force Missouri voters to show photo identification cleared the Republican-controlled House on Thursday, but its chances of swiftly advancing beyond that appeared uncertain after the GOP Senate leader said the issue isn't a top-tier priority.
Republican supporters say a photo ID requirement would guard against potential for voter fraud and protect legitimate votes from becoming diluted. Democratic critics contend there have not been recent documented instances of voter impersonation and the requirement would make voting harder for some. Although lawmakers have debated similar ideas during the past several years, this is the first time Republicans have held a veto-proof majority in both legislative chambers.
Missouri voters currently can show a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID or prove their identity with documents that do not contain a photograph, including copies of current utility bills, bank statements or paychecks with their names and addresses.
Under the House proposal, people without a valid driver's license or other government-issued photo ID could cast a provisional ballot. They would sign an affidavit that they could not obtain a photo ID because they cannot afford the supporting documentation, are disabled, have religious beliefs against it or were born before 1948. Provisional ballots would be counted if the signature matches the one on file with local election authorities.
Enacting the proposal takes two pieces: a constitutional amendment that needs voter approval would permit a photo ID requirement and a separate bill then would implement it. Both elements passed the House on Thursday and now go to the Senate.
The constitutional amendment passed 107-46 with support from Democrats. The separate legislation to implement the photo ID requirement passed in a party-line 103-48 vote. Earlier this week, a Senate committee endorsed a similar photo ID proposal.
Rep. Tony Dugger, one of the leading House sponsors, said it represents a significant step against possible fraud.
"This bill is not political. This bill is securing the process," said Dugger, R-Hartville.
Democratic critics were not convinced. They said it could have a particular affect upon the poor, elderly, disabled and minorities.
Rep. Chris Kelly said there is not a serious problem with voter impersonation and the biggest effect would be to poor, black women — whom he said frequently vote for Democratic candidates.
"I believe that the problem is that too many people vote Democratic," said Kelly, D-Columbia.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said the chamber right now has focused on policies to help get Missourians back to work.
"It's not a top-tier priority. We continue to be interested in making sure that people are able to vote easily and that there is no fraud in the system," said Dempsey, R-St. Charles. "So we'll consider legislation where we think we accomplish those goals."
Enacting a photo ID requirement requires a change to the Missouri Constitution because the state Supreme Court struck down a 2006 photo ID law as an unconstitutional infringement on the fundamental right to vote. That law was passed by a GOP-led Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.
In 2011, the Republican-led Legislature passed a constitutional amendment and the separate legislation. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, and a trial judge rejected the ballot summary for the constitutional amendment, calling it insufficient.
Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander said he is disappointed by the House proposal. He called it an "overly restrictive piece of legislation that would disenfranchise thousands of eligible Missourians."
Across the country there have been efforts to require a photo ID at polling stations. In neighboring Arkansas, Republicans think they have the votes for a photo ID requirement with the GOP now controlling the House and Senate. The Arkansas Senate is expected to vote next week on a voter ID measure.