The Missouri House of Representatives is set to advance a bill that would restore the state's voter ID law to the Senate after finalizing the language over objections from Democrats.
The House gave initial approval by a vote of 106-43 on Wednesday to a bill that would restore a voter ID requirement the Missouri Supreme Court struck down in January.
The House did not make any changes to the bill before approving the language, though representatives offered several amendments.
Republican lawmakers, including bill sponsor state Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, argued requiring identification to vote prevented voter fraud. Democrats argued it was unnecessary because voter fraud is rare, and there are already penalties for committing it.
Simmons said his bill is a direct response to a January ruling from the Missouri Supreme Court that blocked a key provision of the state's voter ID law. It restores a 2016 law that requires photo ID for voters but leaves out a provision the court blocked, which allowed voters to use other documents to confirm their identity.
In 2016, 63 percent of Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to enact voter ID laws, letting a law the Legislature had already passed take effect. The law required a photo ID to vote but allowed people who didn't have one to use something like a bank statement or utility bill to confirm their name and address if they signed an affidavit confirming their identity.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled the state can't use the affidavits because they force voters to say they don't have a valid ID for voting, while also requiring them to show a form of identification in order to vote.
Simmons said his bill restores the state's voter ID law without the affidavit language the court objected to, he said.
Under Simmons' bill, voters would need to show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government, including a Missouri driver's license or a military ID, in order to vote.
If voters don't have one of those forms of ID with them, they can cast a provisional ballot that would become official when they return with an ID or when the election judges confirm their signature matches the signature on file with their registration.
Thirty-five states have some form of a voter ID law, which include requirements for non-photo IDs, an affidavit affirming the voter's identity or photo IDs, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Seven have photo ID requirements similar to Simmons' bill, requiring the voter to show an ID at the poll or after casting a provisional ballot.
Democrats have long argued voter ID requirements disenfranchise people who are minorities, poor or elderly who are less likely to have photo ID. House Democrats countered Simmons with amendments that would expand voter registration, like automatically registering people to vote, and allowing people in jail who haven't been convicted of a crime to vote.
State Reps. Ashley Bland-Manlove, D-Kansas City, and Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, proposed amendments to have the Department of Revenue automatically send registration information to county clerks based on driver's and non-driver's license information.
Seventeen states have automatic voter registration, mainly through their motor vehicle departments, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
Bland-Manlove's amendment — she has also filed as a separate bill — also would have required the Department of Corrections to send information for people newly discharged from prison, probation and parole who are eligible to vote.
"I feel that voting really broadens your perspective and lets you know that, 'This is not about me and what I want, it's about the greater good,'" she said.
Democrats supported the amendments, arguing automatic registration would work with the photo ID requirement because it would use information collected for those IDs. At the same time, it would ensure more people who are eligible to vote are registered.
Simmons said he didn't want any amendments to his bill because he only wanted to restore the law the court blocked. He also argued automatic registration would open the door to non-citizens being registered to vote, which is part of what the voter ID law is meant to stop.
State Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, also argued automatic registration would open the door for non-citizens to vote because Missouri residents don't need to be a citizen to get a driver's license but do need one to vote. He proposed an amendment to put a notation for citizens on their license cards.
"If we are going to require automatic voter registration based upon driver's license information, then we should ensure that only those who are citizens are registered to vote," Deaton said.
Bland-Manlove said only people who are eligible to vote would automatically be registered. The Department of Revenue would vet their information before passing it along to county clerks to make sure they are eligible. Simmons said people could defraud that system.
State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said automatically registering people based on driver's license information is "common sense" and would show the voter ID bill isn't meant to disenfranchise people.
Simmons argued the voter ID requirement should not disenfranchise anyone. The state has to provide a free non-driver's license as an eligible voter ID, and the Secretary of State's Office can help people get the government documents needed to get one, he said.
"The people that seem like they're disenfranchised, there's avenues they have to take," Simmons said. "They're not victims, they just need to know that it's available."
State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, offered another amendment that would require jails to provide and mail absentee ballot applications for people who are confined but eligible to vote.
People in jail who have not been convicted of crimes aren't able to vote even though they aren't legally disqualified, Bosley said. They are having their right to vote taken away even though they haven't had their right to due process, she said.
Some Republican representatives voiced support for Bosley's proposal, but state Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, argued it would be an extra burden on local jails. State Rep. Andrew McDaniel, R-Tarkio, offered then withdrew an amendment that would have allowed people convicted of felonies to own guns, arguing their rights were taken away as well. Bosley noted her bill applied only to people who had not been convicted of a crime.
The House did not approve any changes to the bill Simmons brought to the floor. It will come to the House one more time for a final vote before being passed on to the Senate.