MO Senate passes voter ID bill; Dems still object
Jefferson City, MO – The Missouri Senate Thursday approved a proposal to require voters to show a photo identification before casting ballots, starting with the November election.
But a compromise in the measure would allow anyone lacking an ID to cast a provisional ballot this fall. The ballot would count as long as people sign an affidavit and present some form identification such as an out-of-state driver's license, college ID or utility bill and their signatures match the ones on file with the election authority.
Some Democrats, who led a protracted debate against the bill, claimed it would create two unequal classes of voters the lesser being the elderly, disabled and poor, who are less likely to have drivers' licenses.
"It's going to disenfranchise voters this November," said Sen. Chuck Graham, (D-Columbia).
The first-round approval was by a 23-10 vote; Sen. Victor Callahan, of Independence, was the only Democrat to join all Republicans in voting for it. The measure needs another vote to move to the House.
Sen. Delbert Scott, the measure's sponsor, decried the Democratic objections as "baloney." He argued the provisional ballots would end up being counted just as the traditional ones. "We are not disenfranchising anyone, and it's a spurious argument," he said.
The photo-ID requirement would become firmer for the 2008 elections. But even then, the disabled, those with religious objections and senior citizens those born before 1941 could cast a provisional ballot if they could not obtain a photo identification. "It really makes sense to bridge this first election," said Scott (R-Lowry City). "It provides the opportunity to go forward in the future, but not provide a roadblock to someone who didn't hear the news."
Supporters of the bill say it's needed to give people confidence that their votes aren't being nullified by people voting improperly. Opponents say Missouri has strict enough ID requirements already, and that a photo ID requirement could hurt people without licenses.
"It's a solution for a nonproblem," said Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis). "We do have some issues with voter registration. But impersonation of voters hasn't been an issue."
Some opponents also said that as polling places bring in new voting technology, voters will be confused enough this fall and clerks already overburdened even without imposing new requirements.
The bill endorsed by the Senate largely reflected a compromise among Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. But Senate Minority Leader Maida Coleman, of St. Louis, who helped negotiate the deal, said Democrats never agreed to the language requiring provisional ballots this November for those who lacked photo identifications.
A previous version of the bill required that a mobile center help people in nursing homes who lack IDs to acquire them. The new version spells out that at least nine units must be available to reach people who need ID cards, regardless of whether they live in nursing homes. It also would establish a toll-free number for people who need to find when and where they can get an ID card.
Graham said the legislation would wrongly pour more money into the privately run offices that handle Missouri's drivers' licenses and state identification cards. "We ought to have more options than partisan fee offices to make sure we're qualified to vote, not just registered to vote," he said.
Graham offered an amendment, which failed, that would have required every public high school and county clerk's office to provide ID cards.
Under the bill, the state would pay for ID cards for those who need them to vote. Still, some Democrats questioned whether the bill could amount to a poll tax, because a separate new law requires people to show lawful presence such as a birth certificate to obtain a license or state ID card, and there's a fee to obtain a birth certificate.
The legislation also prohibits people registering voters from being paid per name submitted, in an attempt to bar abuses. It also requires such people to register their work with the secretary of state's office and be a registered Missouri voter themselves.