JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri lawmakers are taking another stab at a requirement for voters to show photo identification at the polls.
Legislators have debated the idea for several years, generally splitting along partisan lines. Republican supporters say it would help protect against possible voter fraud. Democratic critics contend there have not been recent documented instances of impersonation, and that it would make voting harder for some, including seniors and the disabled.
The most recent proposal, discussed during a hearing Tuesday before the House Elections Committee, would put to voters a state constitutional amendment allowing for a photo ID requirement. Coupled to the constitutional amendment would be separate legislation to implement it.
Sponsoring Rep. Tony Dugger said there currently is potential for voter fraud and that his goal is to protect the integrity of Missouri elections.
"It's not my intention to take away any right to vote," said Dugger, R-Hartville.
When Missouri voters go to the polls now, they can show a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID or prove their identity with documents that do not contain photographs, such as copies of current utility bills, bank statements or paychecks with their names and addresses.
Under the proposal, people who do not have a valid driver's license or other government-issued ID with their picture could vote using a provisional ballot. In order to do that, the voter would have to sign an affidavit that they could not obtain a photo ID because they could not afford the supporting documentation, were disabled, had religious beliefs against it or were born before 1941. The provisional ballots would be counted if the signature matches the one on file with local election authorities.
Opponents said the proposal would be a hurdle for voters to overcome. Denise Lieberman, an attorney for the Advancement Project, which is a voting rights group, said it is unnecessary and would restrict eligible voters from casting ballots.
"Elections should be free, fair and accessible for all who are eligible," Lieberman said. "Certainly voters have an obligation for knowing the rules and complying with them. But we shouldn't make voting harder than it has to be."
Initially, the House committee hearing was scheduled for 6:45 a.m. The start time was pushed back after there were complaints, including from Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander.
Kander, who took office this month, voiced opposition to recent Missouri photo ID proposals during the fall campaign. As an alternative, Kander pointed to a policy in Idaho that allows voters who do not bring a required photo ID to sign a sworn affidavit and then cast a standard ballot.
Kander's director of policy and governmental affairs told the House committee that Kander thinks Missouri's most recent proposal would disenfranchise eligible voters.
Enacting a photo ID requirement for voters would require a change to the state constitution because the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a 2006 photo ID law as an unconstitutional infringement on the fundamental right to vote. The law was passed by the GOP-led Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.
In 2010, lawmakers approved both a constitutional amendment and separate legislation. However, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the legislation. A trial judge rejected the ballot summary for the proposed constitutional amendment, calling it insufficient.
Voter ID measures are HJR5 and HB48.