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Senate Republicans force vote on voter ID bill

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By Missy Shelton / AP / KWMU

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kwmu/local-kwmu-511620.mp3

Jefferson City, Mo – Today is the last day of the spring session for Missouri lawmakers.

Lawmakers took a number of final votes on proposals Thursday, and they've already dealt with most of the major issues that were before them.

But one of the last items lawmakers might address Friday is a controversial plan to require Missourians to show a photo ID before voting this fall.

Early Friday morning, Republicans in the Senate used a rare procedure to shut off debate and force a vote on the plan, a move that drew the ire of Democrats.

Missy Shelton prepared this report.

More on Voter Bill

The rare move sent the bill to the House, where final passage is needed by 6 p.m. Friday for the bill to go to the governor.

The legislation requires voters to show a photo ID, such as a driver's license or military card, issued by Missouri or the federal government beginning with this November's elections.

Free ID photo cards could be issued to the estimated 170,000 to 190,000 voting-age Missourians who don't already have one. People still lacking a photo ID this fall could cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted if their identities are verified.

The legislation also repeals the option for Missourians to vote a straight-party ticket by checking a single box instead of choosing candidates for each race on the ballot.

Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan vigorously opposed both the straight-ticket repeal and the photo ID requirement, which she said could disenfranchise thousands of voters while leading to longer lines at the polls and delays in certifying the election results.

But Republican supporters contend a photo ID requirement is necessary to give voters confidence their ballots aren't diluted by people who shouldn't be voting.

"This bill will increase trust in Missouri elections," said lead sponsor Sen. Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City).

Senate Democrats battled against the bill throughout the 2006 session but were prevented from speaking on final passage when Scott made five straight motions to cut off debate and immediately vote. Since 1970, that motion had been used successfully on just seven previous bills in the Senate, where the walls are engraved with the motto "Free and fair discussion will ever be found the firmest friend to the truth."

"The irony here is that we shut off debate on a bill that shuts people out of the political process," said Sen. Patrick Dougherty (D-St. Louis). "The end result is that a number of our constituents whom we ask to vote for us will in reality be disenfranchised from voting this election."

Carnahan has said the elderly, disabled and poor are most likely to have trouble voting, because they are the least likely to have driver's licenses or other government identification.

Figures from Carnahan's office indicate the removal of straight-ticket voting could have a slightly greater impact on Democratic voters than Republicans.

For the 2004 elections, roughly two-thirds of Missouri's local election authorities provided information to the secretary of state's office showing that 594,262 people cast straight Democratic ballots and 497,805 cast straight Republican ballots. The counties that didn't respond were largely rural, with smaller numbers of voters.

Despite the partisan division over the legislation, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons said he didn't believe the bill put Democrats at a disadvantage to Republicans. "The people who are going to be disadvantaged by this bill are the people who want to cheat," Gibbons (R-Kirkwood) said.

Under the bill, the elderly, disabled and those with religious objections could cast a provisional ballot without a photo ID in any election.

Until the 2008 general election, other people lacking a proper photo ID could cast a provisional ballot if they showed certain forms of ID, such as an out-of-state driver's license, a college ID or utility bill, or if two election judges know them.

In either situation, the ballots would count if the voters signed an affidavit, they were in the right polling place and their signatures matched the ones on file with election authorities. The bill provides at least nine mobile units to visit nursing homes and other public places to help people get photo ID cards.

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