House passes plan to require Missourians to present photo identification to vote

By Meghan Boggess

JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri House gave preliminary approval last week to measures that would allow Missouri voters to decide if the state’s Constitution should be amended to require government-issued photo identification to vote.

The legislation provoked heated debate over whether the proposals would endanger some citizens’ right to vote, and if the threat of voter fraud warrants a compelling reason to amend the state’s Constitution. Ultimately, the measure passed by a vote of 108-48 after hours of debate on the House floor.

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment and said it does not require anything else of citizens that they are not already required to prove in many areas of their lives.

“When you come to the fundamental right to cast a vote, and to be protected from fraud, we should expect nothing less,” Cox said. “This is a common-sense solution to a real problem.”

If the amendment were approved, state law would then require voters to present some form of state or federal photo identification. If a voter could not present identification, they would be able to cast a provisional vote.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-Affton, said that the provisional ballots are not real ballots. Provisional ballots are not counted toward an election until election authorities determine their validity. In the case of federal elections, this can mean the votes are not counted until after a state has been called for a candidate.

Montecillo said she did not envy lawmakers voting for the bill when they would have to explain it to “their constituents, their families and their maker.”

“We have men and women across the globe, fighting for our right, and our freedom … to vote. Explain that to them,” Montecillo said, while addressing the supporters of the bill.

Rep. Noel Torpey, R-Independence, said that the bill would not disenfranchise anyone and that it was the right thing to do to fight voter fraud.

“If I’m going to hell, it’s not because of the vote I’m taking today,” Torpey said.

Detractors cited concerns that the bill would disenfranchise minority groups based on race, age or income.

“Jim Crow is alive in this room today,” said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

In a statement, House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, said that when Republicans began to push for required photo identification in 2006, there had been no cases of voter impersonation.

“Legally registered elderly, disabled, low-income and minority voters are real, and they tend to vote for Democrats. And they also account for the bulk of the estimated 250,000 Missouri voters who don’t have a government-issued photo ID,” Hummel said in the statement.

A similar bill was struck down in the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006. The court agreed the bill was unconstitutional with a 6-1 unsigned decision.

“We took an oath to uphold the Constitution but then we want to pick and choose what provisions in the Constitution we want to protect,” said Rep. Kimberly Gardner, D-St. Louis.

The House approved the proposal Wednesday night after a lengthy debate during the day. The measures still need a final vote before heading to the Senate. The chamber also endorsed partner legislation to the resolution that would allow the state to issue a photo ID to those who do not already have one and would like one in order to vote if the amendment were to be approved.