JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri Senate panel heard legislation Monday that would require voters to show photo identification at polling places amid warnings from the state's top election official that 220,000 registered voters would no longer be able to cast ballots if the measure passes.
Similar measures have been passed in other states, but they have faced legal challenges. And Missouri's previous efforts have failed in the courts.
The measure's sponsor told the Senate Elections Committee that Missouri needs to require voters to show a government-issued ID to preserve the integrity of state elections.
"We need to make sure everyone's vote counts. It should be one person, one vote,and without an ID requirement, we can't make that happen," said sponsoring Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit.
Opponents contend there's no evidence of massive voter fraud and that such measures disenfranchise voters.
Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander said 150,000 registered voters don't have a state-issued photo ID and an additional 70,000 voters have expired ones.
"It is my job to make sure that only eligible voters vote but also that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote," Kander said in a written statement.
Kraus' bill would let people obtain one government-issued ID free of charge. It would also allow voters who can't afford an ID and those born before 1941 to cast a provisional ballot. The signature on the provisional ballot would have to match the signature on the voter's registration for the ballot to be counted.
Kander's arguments against the legislation echo those of his fellow Democratic predecessor, Robin Carnahan, who estimated that a similar number of Missourians would not have been able to vote under a photo ID measure proposed in 2009.
Kander and Carnahan both arrived at their numbers by comparing a database of registered voters with one of Missourians with valid driver's licenses and state identification cards. Both reduced their numbers to account for discrepancies, such as misspelled names or name changes.
The Missouri Supreme Court struck down a photo ID law in 2006 as unconstitutional. Since then, the Republican-led legislature has tried many times to amend the state constitution to enact the requirement.
This year's proposal has two parts: a constitutional amendment that would go before voters authorizing a photo ID requirement and a bill that would place into law the specific details about how that requirement would work. The Senate committee held hearings on both proposals Monday but did not vote on them.
A similar two-prong approach was passed by the legislature in 2011. But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation to implement the requirement. A judge struck down the summary for the measure, so it never went before voters.