A Missouri House committee approved on Wednesday measures to create one of the strictest voter photo identification requirements in the country.
The change would require unexpired Missouri-issued or federal photographic identification. Bill sponsor Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said the opportunity for voter fraud needed to be stopped to maintain the integrity of elections in the state.
Dugger said there had been no known instances of in-person voter impersonation in the state. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, questioned why the measure was necessary if there had never been a case.
“How are you going to catch voter impersonation fraud without a photo ID?” Dugger responded. “I think we should protect the integrity of elections, and if there’s an opportunity for voter impersonation, I think we should prevent that.”
There are only nine states that require photo identification to vote. The limited number of documents accepted under the Missouri proposal would make it stricter than all but two states, Indiana and Texas. Expired drivers licenses and school-issued photo IDs would not be accepted.
Only nonexpired Missouri or federal photo ID would be accepted under the proposal. About 220,000 registered voters would not have the required ID cards, according to a report from Secretary of State Jason Kander. Kander opposes the measure.
While the measure would pay for new photo ID cards for Missouri voters, it would not cover the cost of any documents, such as birth certificates, required to get the IDs.
Newman said this would disproportionately affect women who have married, divorced or remarried and changed their names.
“Women are not keeping all of their documents up to date because there’s no need to,” Newman said. “Who is going to pay for all those documents they need to go find?”
Dugger said that if someone did not have the proper identification to vote at the polls, they’d be able to fill out a provisional ballot. He said it would be different from the current provisional ballots and would be counted if the signature matched up with that on the individual’s voter registration.
Some witnesses said it would be too difficult for some Missouri voters to get the required documents. They also said signatures might not match up after many years.
Newman and other opponents said the measure was actually politically motivated and intended to keep traditionally Democratic party supporters, such as women, minorities and urban voters, from being able to vote.
“We’re picking on individuals who are often associated with the Democratic party,” said Rep. Randy Dunn, D-Kansas City. “We are trying to fix a problem that does not exist.”
Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton, said requiring a photo ID would actually protect voters. He cited studies of voter rolls that had found some felons, dead people and residents of vacant lots registered to vote in Missouri.
“This isn’t about disenfranchisement of voters, this is about voters in our counties not being outnumbered by fraudulent voters in St. Louis County,” McGaugh said. “Their vote should not be outnumbered by someone who will commit voter fraud.”
The bill sponsored by Dugger has a companion constitutional amendment that would go before voters. Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, sponsored that measure and said the change would bring the state Constitution more in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. The state Supreme Court in 2006 struck down a photo identification requirement for voters.
Cox said he thought that was the wrong decision and did not think getting a photo ID would be a big obstacle. “There is no evidence at all that it has adversely affected any voters in this country by having a photo identification requirement,” Cox said.
Opponents said the majority should not decide whether or not to strip away someone’s right to vote. In 2012, a similar measure passed, but the language in the ballot measure that would appear before voters was struck down by a Cole County judge.
Voter ID laws are being challenged in several states including Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.
The House elections committee approved the measures along party lines. The Senate heard a similar measure late last month but has not yet voted on it. The House measures now go to the Rules committee and then to the full chamber.
The bill is HB 1073. The constitutional amendment is HJR 47.