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Judge knocks photo ID bill off Missouri's Nov. 6 ballot; backers seek to put it back on

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 29, 2012 - Supporters of a photo ID requirement for voters, which was set to be on this fall’s ballot, are scrambling after a judge tossed out the ballot measure today, citing “insufficient and unfair’’ wording.

State Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, quickly filed a House-Senate joint resolution with revised wording this afternoon. Friday is the last day for House legislation to be filed for this session; the Senate deadline was weeks ago.

The suit was brought by area voting-rights groups. Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was among the Democrats lauding the court’s action.

“The court decision finding that legislators wrote insufficient and unfair ballot language is a victory for voters’ rights,” she said in a statement. “I am pleased the judge saw through this deceptive attempt to trick Missourians into thinking this proposal is about passing a Voter Protection Act. In reality, this proposal has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Missouri voters.”

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, also praised the decision by Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia S. Joyce.  “This is a victory for voting rights and it affirms the most fundamental constitutional guarantee for every citizen in Missouri,” Clay said. “Today’s ruling blocks a blatant attempt to disenfranchise seniors, students, the disabled, minorities and the rural poor.”

UPDATE: But state Sen. Bill Stouffer, R- and the chief Senate sponsor, said he was "disappointed with the latest setback on voter ID laws in this state."

Stouffer noted that he unsuccessfully had tried today to get the Senate to suspend the rules and allow him to submit a revised resolution, even though the legislation-submission deadline had passed.

"This is another setback for Missourians," he said., "Our goal is simply to have fair elections. hope we can find some common ground and come together to put forth something that enables all Missourians to vote confidently and fairly in the future.” End update

Clay and Carnahan have contended that the proposed requirement could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of current Missouri voters who lack the type of government-issued photo identification that the proposed restriction would require.

Stouffer and his allies say they are out to guard against potential voter fraud.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly had passed the joint resolution last year, which – until today’s court decision – was set to go directly on the ballot. Gov. Jay Nixon cannot block a joint resolution.

The measure seeks to change Missouri’s constitution which, according to the state Supreme Court, now bars requiring such a restriction for Missouri voters.

Even if Missouri voters passed the constitutional change, the General Assembly still must approve procedures for putting the requirement into place. Nixon has vetoed a separate bill that laid out the process and earmarked $3 million for helping Missourians without a government-issued ID to get one.

Nixon and other Democrats have noted that people seeking a government-issued ID usually must have a birth certificate. Copies usually cost $15 or more, and some elderly Missourians never had a birth certificate.

Democrats also contended the GOP's aim was to make it more difficult for Democratic-leaning blocs of voters -- such as students and the poor -- to vote.

UPDATE: Said Stouffer: "In this day and age, you cannot get a hotel room, rent a movie or send a package via UPS without showing a photo ID first. With all of the technological advances and security changes that have been made over the past 10 to 25 years, you would think the right to vote would be just as sacred, but it is not." End update

In her ruling, the judge wrote that the ballot summary for the proposed constitutional amendment was “insufficient and unfair.” 

The summary is as follows: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to adopt the Voter Protection Act and allow the General Assembly to provide by general law for advance voting prior to election day, voter photo identification requirements, and voter requirements based on whether one appears to vote in person or by absentee ballot?"

The judge noted, for example, that the summary referred to the "Voter Protection Act," while those words don't appear in the proposed constitutional amendment. 

The judge also said the summary implied that a constitutional change was need to allow "early voting," when that's not the case. Legislators could set up early voting under current law, but have declined to do so.

She continued, "Because significant changes are required here and policy choices need to be made as to how to reallocate the words in a revised summary statement, the court chooses to vacate the summary statement and to provide the General Assembly an opportunity to revise it.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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