Blunt signs voter ID bill

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Supporters say the law is necessary to prevent fraud in elections, while opponents say previous requirements were sufficient.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missourians must show a government-issued photo ID to vote, starting with the November election under a bill Gov. Matt Blunt signed Wednesday.

Republican supporters say the identification requirement is necessary to prevent fraud in elections and to give people confidence that legitimate votes aren't being watered down.

"The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy," Blunt said at the Capitol bill signing ceremony. "That right is undermined whenever fraud occurs. A system that the people do not trust is a system that undermines the people's trust in their elected government."

Democratic opponents, led by the state's top elections official, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, say the previous requirements were sufficient. They argue that the voter ID measure will especially harm the poor, elderly and disabled who may not have driver's licenses.

Some also say the measure will keep from the polls the same people affected by last year's cuts to the Medicaid health-care program.

"I have consistently voiced my concerns about rushing a new voter ID requirement into law without letting law-abiding Missouri citizens know well in advance about the new rules and giving them a fair chance to comply before Election Day," Carnahan said in a written statement. "It is critical that the state implement this new law in a way that will not disenfranchise voters and will encourage public confidence and participation in our elections system."

A legal challenge is expected soon.

Illustrating the fierce partisan sparring over the bill, Blunt's staff prevented a Carnahan staff member and a Democratic activist from attending the bill signing in the governor's office. Spokesman Spence Jackson said such events are limited to the media and invited guests "to keep the process free of disruptions."

Under the bill, free ID cards could be issued to the estimated 170,000 voting-age Missourians who lack one, and mobile processing centers will visit nursing homes and elsewhere to get cards to the elderly and disabled. Blunt's signing allows that process to begin immediately.

Revenue Department spokeswoman Maura Browning said the agency planned to send letters today to 1,500 nursing homes and other centers for seniors and the disabled outlining what's needed for a visit. She said visits are planned from July 15 through Oct. 15, and that people needing an ID card to vote could obtain one from their local license office starting Thursday.

Applicants also must meet other requirements to get an ID card or license, including proving they are lawfully in the country, generally with a birth certificate or passport.

Advocates for the disabled said people face other costs the state won't cover.

"It won't pay for bus fare, or gas, of for time lost from work, or the $15 fee for the birth certificate," Michelle Bishop, organizer for the Missouri Disability Vote Project, said in a written statement.

Blunt said the state isn't reimbursing such costs "to fulfill a civic obligation. That's an absurd suggestion."

Lawmakers heard an outcry from elderly residents who lacked an official birth certificate. So they passed another bill, which Blunt also signed Wednesday, that exempts people 65 and older from that lawful presence requirement if they previously had a Missouri license. It also grants anyone who has had a Missouri license for at least 15 years but lacks the proper documents a one-time, one-year license without that proof. That also takes effect immediately.

People without a photo ID this fall could cast a provisional ballot. In future elections, only the elderly, disabled and those with religious objections to carrying a photo ID could vote without one, and then only through a provisional ballot.

Those ballots would count if the voters signed an affidavit, they were in the right polling place and their signatures matched the ones on file with election authorities.

Supporters note the new law will require provisional ballots to carry the full slate of races, rather than just the major contests as they do currently. But critics note those ballots are still set aside to be studied later, and said people will fear their votes won't count.

Carnahan said that in 2004, about 8,000 provisional ballots were cast in Missouri but just 3,000 were counted.

The bill also repeals the option to vote a straight-party ticket by checking one box instead of choosing candidates for each race, which state statistics indicate could have a slightly greater impact on Democratic voters than Republicans.

Also Wednesday, the governor signed a bill that makes it easier to disqualify jobless workers from unemployment benefits. Supporters said the changes are necessary to overhaul an unemployment compensation system that has run into financial troubles in recent years.

Voter ID bill is SB1014; lawful presence bill is SB1001; unemployment bill is HB1456.

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