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Mo. lawmakers asked to endorse "Photo ID' voting mandate

Mo. lawmakers asked to endorse "Photo ID' voting mandate

February 10th, 2013 in News

In a 6-1 decision in October 2006, Missouri's Supreme Court rejected a state law passed that spring, requiring voters to present specific forms of identification containing their photograph.

So, lawmakers who argue that a photo ID is the best way to prevent election day fraud at polling places are back this year with proposed constitutional amendments - and new laws to enact the amendments if voters approve them.

A House committee heard its version of the two proposals Jan. 29, with the House Rules Committee endorsing them last Thursday for full floor debate.

Last Monday, the Senate's Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee heard testimony on Sen. Will Kraus' two proposals.

Only the sponsors testified in favor of their bills, while several people told the committees the proposals are unnecessary.

"I'm trying to protect everyone's right to vote, and make sure that the person who is voting is, actually, the person they are stating they are," Kraus told the committee.

"We've had elections in this state that were very narrow, and I want to make sure that those people had one man, one vote."

Secretary of State Jason Kander "is strongly against this bill because it would result in the disenfranchising of possible Missouri voters," spokesman John Scott told the Senate committee, "largely because not all eligible Missourians currently have, or can obtain access to, the photo ID this legislation requires."

More than 175,000 households don't have vehicles and, likely, don't have driver's licenses, he said. Nearly 40,000 others take public transportation regularly and also may not have the correct ID.

Scott told the lawmakers: "Our office would be happy to work with anyone, to come up with a way to address this issue in a way that doesn't disenfranchise Missouri voters."

He said the secretary of state's office "hasn't been shown any evidence of voter impersonation fraud."

When asked if anyone has been convicted in Missouri of voting under someone else's name, Kraus said: "I'm just trying to be pro-active. ... I want to make sure that we head it off at the pass."

Under current law, the secretary of state's website explains that voters can show a photo ID as proof of their identity - or they can use a registration card provided by the county clerk or "copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government document that contains the name and address of the voter."

But, Kraus told colleagues last week: "How do you verify that that person isn't who they say they are, when they come in with that utility bill, saying that they are "Bill Jones.'"

Denise Lieberman, a St. Louis attorney with the "Advancement Project," a voters' rights group, told the committee: "Elections should be free, fair and accessible to all who are eligible.

"Unfortunately, the measures (proposed) would weaken protections for voting in our Constitution, would not advance the integrity of our elections, and they would relegate hundreds of thousands of eligible, valid Missouri voters to second-class citizens - and make it harder for many people to vote."

She agreed all should be concerned about voting integrity.

"But, as lawmakers, you have an obligation to ensure that voting is accessible (and) it is not harder than it needs to be."

In 2006, the six judges ruled, in a 23-page opinion: "The Missouri Constitution provides a specific provision that enshrines the right to vote among certain enumerated constitutional rights of its citizens."

They said the 2006 law "creates a heavy burden on the right to vote and is not narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest, so it (also) falls afoul of the Missouri Constitution's equal protection clause ... and of Missourians' specific constitutional protection of the right to vote."

Lieberman noted the new proposed laws also are unconstitutional, without the proposed amendments, based on the 2006 Supreme Court ruling.

And, she said, the proposed amendment language "is deceptive and misleading to voters because it fails to tell them that we're asking voters to strip a fundamental right out of the Constitution. You should be loathe, as lawmakers, to ask voters to strip rights from the Constitution. ...

"Fundamental rights should not be up to a popular vote."

Kraus reminded colleagues that voters whose identification might be questioned can cast a "provisional ballot."

"Provisional ballots will have their signatures checked and, if the signatures match, they will be counted," he said.

But that's not necessarily true, Lieberman countered.

"Unfortunately for (my own mother), a severe hand tremor prevents her from duplicating her signature - and that provisional ballot will not be counted."