JEFFERSON CITY (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Friday that could have required voters to show photo identification and created a no-excuses-needed period in which Missouri residents could have cast ballots before Election Day.
Nixon said he spiked the bill because it could have made it harder for seniors and the disabled to vote. He said those groups are less likely to have a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID card.
"It is unacceptable to impede or discourage citizens from voting who have lawfully cast ballots their entire adult lives," Nixon, a Democrat, said in a veto message to the Republican-led Legislature.
A proposed constitutional amendment on photo IDs and early voting still is to appear on Missouri's 2012 ballot. But that measure only authorizes the separate enactment of state laws on the two topics; it does not require them.
Nixon had supported the early voting provision. But Missouri governors can only use a line-item veto on budget bills, meaning Nixon had to accept both the early voting and photo ID provisions or reject the entire bill. Democratic governors in Minnesota and Montana also vetoed Republican-backed bills last month that would have required voters to show photo ID.
Republicans have backed the photo ID requirement as a common-sense precaution against potential election fraud. Democrats say it's unnecessary, because there have been no known cases of voters impersonating other people in Missouri. Democrats generally have backed the early voting period while some Republicans have not.
Republican legislative leaders linked the two provisions this year in an effort to avoid a Senate filibuster and garner more support for the measure. The bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan 25-9 vote but cleared the House on a party-line vote of 99-52. The House margin is well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a gubernatorial veto.
Nixon's veto is the second recent rejection of photo identification legislation in Missouri.
In 2006, the state Supreme Court struck down a photo ID law signed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican. The court ruled the law infringed on the fundamental right to vote granted by the Missouri Constitution, taking particular issue with the cost of obtaining documents - such as a birth certificate or passport - needed to obtain a free state photo ID card.
Lawmakers this year referred the proposed constitutional amendment to the 2012 ballot in an attempt to get around the court's concerns.
Ultimately, Nixon's veto may not prohibit a photo ID requirement. If voters approve the constitutional amendment, legislators could pass another bill implementing the mandate or state and local officials could then attempt to enforce the 2006 law.
Sen. Bill Stouffer, who sponsored the legislation, said he was disappointed by the veto but expects legislators will try again to pass a photo ID requirement.
"We've got the constitutional amendment to go before the people in 2012," said Stouffer, R-Napton. "We may let the people decide whether they want to do it or not and then move on, or we may give the governor another opportunity" before then.
If the Missouri Constitution is amended to permit a photo ID requirement, "it's a very credible position to say this effectively overturned that state Supreme Court decision and therefore the law they declared unconstitutional is now, in fact, constitutional," said Thor Hearne, a Republican attorney from St. Louis who helped write and defend the 2006 voter ID law.
Hearne also was involved in Indiana's voter ID law, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2008 against claims that it infringed on rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
Under the bill vetoed by Nixon, people without government-issued photo ID could have cast provisional ballots after signing an affidavit that they were unable to get a photo ID because they couldn't afford the supporting documentation, were disabled, had religious beliefs against it or were born before 1941. Those provisional ballots would have been counted only if people's signatures matched those on file with election authorities.
Nixon said a person's signature - though authentic - could bear little resemblance to one written decades earlier when the person registered to vote.
"Placing a cloud of uncertainty over ballots cast by qualified voters is inconsistent with an individual's right to vote and have that vote counted," Nixon said.
The governor also said it could have been "costly and time-consuming" for people to gather the documentation needed to get a government ID, though the legislation would have required the state to issue the photo ID for free.
The Advancement Project, a voting-rights group that opposed the bill, said nearly 2,000 Missouri voters had signed a petition urging Nixon to veto the legislation.
"The governor's action today sends the message that no Missouri voter should be relegated to second class citizenship solely because they do not have or cannot get a state ID," said Denise Lieberman, the group's senior attorney.