House panel passes voter ID requirement

Friday, April 28, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Overriding critics' worries about hindering people from voting, a House panel advanced legislation Thursday requiring voters to show a photo identification starting this fall.

The Senate passed the bill last week after making changes intended to ease Democratic concerns, though in the end only one Democrat joined Republicans in voting for the bill.

In the House Elections Committee, Rep. Bill Deeken of Jefferson City, a former county clerk, was the only Republican to join Democrats in opposing the legislation, which cleared the panel on a 6-5 vote.

Deeken said he agrees with the concept of requiring a photo ID, but this year is too soon.

"We may have set elections back a little bit," he said.

The measure requires people to show a Missouri or federal photo identification to vote. The elderly (those born before 1941); the disabled and those with religious objections could cast a provisional ballot without showing a photo ID.

Provisional ballots would count as long as people sign an affidavit, present certain forms of identification -- such as an out-of-state driver's license, college ID or utility bill -- and their signatures match the ones on file with the election authority.

Photo ID cards would be provided for free to anyone needing one to vote, and a mobile center would help those in nursing homes and elsewhere get the cards.

Several county clerks shared practical concerns about the proposed changes during Thursday's committee meeting. Some said it would be simpler for election officials if those without a proper photo ID could vote a regular ballot, rather than a provisional one, at least for this fall. An amendment to push all the changes back until 2008 failed in the House committee.

The bill requires provisional ballots to be reviewed and counted, if they meet the requirements, before an election is certified. Sullivan County Clerk Mike Hepler said that could delay finalizing election results for four or five days.

Others said new voting equipment to allow those with certain disabilities, such as the blind, to vote privately isn't designed to handle a provisional ballot.

Clerks also said they could incur costs without state funding to implement the requirements, a potential constitutional violation.

One concession added since the original bill is that anyone lacking a proper photo ID could cast a provisional ballot until the 2008 general election. The House committee added a further concession, agreeing to allow people lacking any form of identification to cast provisional ballots until 2008 if two election judges sign an affidavit that they know them. Under current law, people can vote a regular ballot as long as two election judges know them.

Still, the state's chief elections official, Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, said provisional ballots are a second-class system and trying to get the ID requirement in place this year is too soon. She estimates 170,000 to 190,000 Missourians of voting age lack a license or state ID card.

"This bill is an atrocity and an outrage to voters all over our state," she said.

In the 2004 election, she said, about 8,000 provisional ballots were cast in Missouri, and about 3,000 counted. It's wrong to imply that those people given an exception and a provisional ballot will have their votes counted the same as everyone else, Carnahan said.

The House committee made other changes to the bill, including elimination of the current option of voting a straight party ticket. They also removed some provisions that had been in a Senate compromise, such as establishing a team of various agencies to help people cut through bureaucracy to obtain an ID and specifying that at least nine mobile units be available to help people get ID cards.

The House committee version of the bill also sets up a process to move an election day in case of a terror attack or natural disaster.

If the measure passes the full House, negotiators would have to work out the differences before the bill could advance to the governor's desk.

Voter ID bill is SB1014.

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