JEFFERSON CITY — Once again Wednesday afternoon, Missouri lawmakers rehashed the debate on whether election security legislation protects or restricts voting.
The Senate Committee on Local Government and Elections conducted hearings on two voting-related bills. HB 334 would reinstate a requirement for photo ID in order to vote. HB 738 would also institute a photo ID requirement, along with many other provisions — instituting no-excuse in-person absentee voting, disallowing mail-in voting except for absentee ballots and others. Despite heated contention, both bills have already passed through the House.
The photo ID bill is a reaction to a 2020 Missouri Supreme Court decision which declared similar legislation from 2016 unconstitutional because of a provision that could subject Missourians who voted without photo ID to potential perjury charges. This bill attempts to reintroduce the requirement while skirting the areas at odds with the Missouri Constitution.
Several opponents argued that the bill doesn’t clear the constitutionality bar.
“That court decision referenced by the sponsor made clear that any legislation like this one, that would remove non-photo forms of ID, would be unconstitutional,” said Denise Lieberman, head of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, noting that the costs of such legal challenges are eventually footed by the taxpayers.
Lieberman went on to say that this bill is “a solution in search of a problem.”
She and other opponents said that the state has not prosecuted a single case of voter impersonation-based fraud in any election, which fits into the larger scheme of findings detailing the rarity of voter fraud. They also referenced a Department of Revenue finding that showed over 200,000 Missourians on the voter registration rolls did not have a current ID on file.
Advocates for the bills contended that while cases of fraud may be highly scarce, it’s paramount to instill absolute faith in the electoral process.
“While it may be rare, we know that elections can be decided by one vote,” said Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller. “We had in this last April election one election that tied, another election that was lost by one vote, another election that was won by one vote.”
Opponents pointed to the impact of the many more votes that this legislation would prevent from being cast.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft spoke on the provisions in the bills that aim to combat any incidental voter disenfranchisement. These include a provision to allow voters unable to show photo ID on election day to vote with a provisional ballot and the Secretary of State’s free ID program, which helps Missourians obtain photo IDs and other documents like birth certificates for free.
Some witnesses responded that the free ID program is not a sufficient remedy. Because of either lack of outreach or other issues, there isn’t evidence the program is being utilized by communities lacking IDs.
Lieberman said that “relegating valid voters to cast a provisional ballot which may not count is an insufficient remedy.” Opponents echoed throughout that the issue will be that any burdens placed on voters’ ability to cast a ballot infringe on the rights guaranteed in the Missouri Constitution.
“I hear a lot of times around bills related to photo ID that it’s just common sense,” said Christine Dragonette, director of social ministry at St. Francis Xavier College Church. “But I’m here just to voice that it’s not common sense for people who are unhoused, and who are often most marginalized — those folks who are not going to be in this room today.”
Among HB 738’s many other components, witnesses most often narrowed in on the permanent authorization of no-excuse absentee voting.
Though the expansion of absentee voting has been supported by both parties this session, the outline in the bill wasn’t able to escape contention. The sticking points were over the a shortening of the absentee voting period, from six weeks to three weeks, and the exclusion of mail-in absentee voting.
Opponents said that excluding mail-in options failed to help those availing themselves of the absentee option because of an issue getting to the polls. Lieberman noted examples such as “seniors, people with chronic health conditions, people with disabilities, low wage workers unable to take time off.”
Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, expressed concern with the push to make pandemic-related expanded voting options the norm.
“I don’t see it as an infringement on people’s rights to get back to just a normal type of election process,” Brattin said.
“I see it differently, respectfully,” said Cheryl Adelstein, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. “The experiment worked, so I don’t know why we wouldn’t continue to look to the future and look to support more opportunities to vote.”
Both bills will be voted on by the committee and then could be moved to a Senate vote.