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With several months to go before state lawmakers return for the 2022 legislative session, Republicans are promising to once again push to require photo identification to vote.

Committees in the Missouri House and Senate held hearings Tuesday dominated by discussions of requiring a government-issued ID for both in-person and absentee voting. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft testified at both hearings, signaling his intention to make voter-ID legislation among his top priorities once again.

"In-person voting with a photo ID makes it difficult to manipulate the system and easier to identify fraud," Ashcroft said.

If lawmakers succeed, Missouri would join seven states that have enacted "strict photo ID laws," which require a government-issued photo ID to vote — though three also allow for student IDs.

Republicans have been trying to enact a photo ID requirement to vote in Missouri for the last 15 years. Legislation has passed several times, but it's never been able to fully withstand legal challenges.

"We know that creating a two-tiered system having first- and second-class voters is a recipe for confusion and disenfranchisement," Denise Lieberman, director and general counsel of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, a nonpartisan coalition of voter rights advocates, testified Tuesday.

Lieberman said thousands of people across the state can't afford to pay for a government-issued ID, as well as the costs of obtaining birth certificates and other documentation necessary to qualify for an ID in Missouri.

Ashcroft told committee members he didn't believe requiring photo ID would disenfranchise impoverished communities because his office has helped roughly 1,000 people a year get state-issued IDs for free.

"We have the financial resources," Ashcroft said. "We have the wherewithal to help more people, but we're not having people that want assistance with that."

Opponents criticized Ashcroft's outreach efforts, citing a 2017 analysis by the Secretary of State's office that found about 137,700 registered voters in Missouri did not have a state-issued identification. Another 140,000 voters had expired IDs, the analysis found, and 2,000 more voters had forfeited their driver's licenses.

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