Before Missouri legislators can enact any sort of photo ID requirement for voters, they first must get voter approval to change the state constitution.
Until the General Assembly approves a separate resolution to place the amendment before voters, any debate over specifics doesn't matter much.
In fact, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones predicts that the proposed constitutional amendment to allow photo-ID requirements for voters will likely be the only piece of photo ID legislation to pass this year.
“A wise path on this is to pass the constitutional question, for the voters to decide,’’ Jones said in a interview. "And that’s all we should likely do this year.”
If the measure is approved by voters this fall, the speaker added, the Missouri General Assembly can then focus in 2015 on what the photo-ID requirements should be.
Senate leaders, he said, have told him that getting the constitutional amendment on the ballot is “a priority for them this year. ... We are more than happy to work with them to accomplish the task.”
Senate leaders also want to hold off on any implementation bill, he added. But just in case they change their minds, Jones said he does expect the House to pass an implementation bill.
Photo ID effort must clear complicated hurdles
The two-pronged approach reflects the legal and political necessities that photo-ID supporters have faced ever since the Missouri Supreme Court tossed out a photo-ID law before the 2006 election. The court said that the photo ID requirement violated Missouri’s constitution when it comes to voting rights.
Since then, for various reasons, Republican legislative leaders have failed to get the proposed amendment on Missouri ballots. Some years, it was because the Senate balked at passing the proposal. In 2012, the Senate passed the ballot measure, but a Cole County judge tossed it out because of the ballot wording.
Gov. Jay Nixon plays no official role in the constitutional-amendment process because the General Assembly can place a proposal on the ballot without action by the governor.
But that’s not the case with the implementation bill — and that's what creates the political and legal drama.
In 2011, Nixon vetoed an implementation bill that the General Assembly had approved, which basically mirrored the strict requirements approved by a House committee this week. Among other things, the governor noted at the time that Missouri voters hadn't approved a constitutional amendment allowing photo IDs.
State Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want to put another implementation bill before the governor until Missouri voters have weighed in.
For one thing, Nixon may continue to reject implementation bills, since he believes the photo-ID requirement would unfairly hurt minorities, the elderly and the poor. If voters have overwhelmingly approved the idea, some Republicans say, it may be easier to persuade legislators to override any future Nixon vetoes.
Debate continues over photo-ID requirements
State Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, has been sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment allowing photo-ID mandates for voters for seven years. He says he’d be happy if this session is the last time he has to deal with the issue.
Cox predicts a full House vote on the photo-ID amendment before it leaves on spring break in late March. He’s hoping that Senate leaders will follow through with their commitment and get the proposed amendment on the ballot.
“Vote fraud clearly exists,’’ Cox said, adding that he doesn’t believe the opponents’ contention that identity fraud at the polls rarely, if ever, occurs.
Cox also believes that Missouri voters would likely approve a photo-ID requirement, citing national polls that generally show overwhelming public support for photo IDs. And he notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved the mandate in a case involving Indiana’s strict photo-ID law.
In addition, Cox said that care was taken in drawing up this year’s proposed constitutional amendment to comply with the judge’s objections about wording that kept it off the ballot in 2012. “The ballot language is not a problem in this one,’’ Cox said.
New secretary of state is outspoken critic
Leading the opposition is Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who has issued a report and gone on national TV to highlight what he views as the problems with the strict photo ID laws that some backers envision for Missouri.
Kander and other critics have acknowledged that polls often show support for the idea, but they say that’s because the public isn’t aware of how restrictive some photo-ID laws are — and would likely be in Missouri.
“I’ll never support legislation that disenfranchises a single eligible Missouri voter,” Kander said in a statement. “This (implementation) law would be the most extreme in the country, and it is so unconstitutional that the bill sponsors have to change the Missouri constitution before it can take effect."
As it stands, he noted, about 220,000 registered Missouri voters would be barred from voting under the proposed implementation bill approved last week by the House Elections Committee. That amounts to about 8 percent of the people who cast ballots at Missouri polls in 2012.
About 150,000 are people who don’t have a drivers license, the most common form of photo ID. Another 70,000 — mostly the elderly or disabled — have expired drivers licenses that no longer could be used as IDs at the polls, Kander’s staff says.
Under the Missouri photo-ID bill (HB1073) approved by the House committee this week, would-be voters could only use certain government-issued identification. The allowed IDs include drivers’ licenses, passports and military IDs. But all would have to be un-expired.
People without such identification could apply for free state IDs. But they would have to provide notarized birth certificates and marriage licenses (if their names are not the same as on their birth certificate). People without such documents would have to acquire them, and that costs money. The state would not cover those costs.
Cox said that people without such documents could file affidavits saying they can’t afford to get them. He also noted that the implementation bill would allow such people to cast provisional ballots, which would be counted if they can provide the proper documents soon after the election.
Kander cited statistics showing that, in 2012, fewer than 30 percent of the registered Missouri voters who cast a provisional ballot saw their votes counted.
Kander also noted that the 2006 Missouri Supreme Court ruling alluded to people having to pay for documents needed to obtain a free state ID. Some Democrats have contended that the scenario amounts to a de facto “poll tax," which the courts have ruled are illegal.
Proposed photo ID requirements would be among the strictest in the nation
IF HB1073 were to become law, it would be in line with the strict photo-ID laws in Indiana and Texas. Thirteen other states have photo-ID laws, but they are not as strict, with most allowing expired drivers licenses or student ID cards to be used as allowable photo IDs.
Missouri now is among 15 states that require identification at the polls, but they don’t have to be photo IDs.
Cox has countered that voter turnout has not appeared to be hurt in those states with strict photo-ID requirements. He and other Republicans also denied that there was any intent to target Democratic-leaning voters, such minorities or women, who might have difficulty meeting the photo-ID requirements in HB1073.
State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, has been among the vocal critics of the latest GOP effort to get a photo ID requirement approved by voters. Newman said that married women who've change their names would be particularly harmed. She has cited high-profile incidents in Texas where prominent women have not been allowed to vote because their married name didn't match that on their birth certificate.
She said she also expects organized opposition should a proposed constitutional amendment get on the November ballot and cites success in 2012 in defeating a photo-ID proposal in Minnesota.
Newman acknowledged that many Missourians aren’t even aware of the debate now underway in Jefferson City. But if as photo-ID measure gets on the ballot, she said, “they will.”