Senate Republicans turned to the nuclear option Wednesday, voting to cut off debate, end a Democratic filibuster and override Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a voter ID bill.
The maneuver, known as “calling the previous question,” has historically been rarely used — only 15 times since 1970. But in recent years Republicans have increasingly used it to force through bills that have garnered vehement Democratic opposition, including earlier this year when they killed a nearly 40-hour filibuster of a “religious freedom” amendment to the state constitution.
That was the case Wednesday on a bill that would require Missouri voters to provide a government-issued photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot.
The House voted 115-41 to override, with every Republican and the lone independent voting in support and every Democrat voting against. The Senate voted to override on a 24-7 party-line vote after a little more than two hours of discussion.
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Even though the veto was overridden, the bill won’t become law unless voters decide in November to amend the state’s constitution to allow a photo ID requirement. That’s because the Missouri Supreme Court deemed voter ID unconstitutional in 2006, ruling that the law amounted to a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
If voters reject the constitutional amendment this fall, voter ID remains unconstitutional and the enacting legislation voted on Wednesday is moot.
Under current law, voters are required to sign in when they seek to cast a ballot and attest that they are who they say they are. They must also provide some form of ID, but the list of acceptable IDs includes some without a photo, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.
Republicans have tried for more than a decade to change that law and mandate a photo ID requirement to vote. They say the requirement is needed in order to prevent voter fraud.
“This is about protecting the sanctity of the vote,” said Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican.
The legislation would still allow people to cast ballots using a non-photo ID. Those voters would be required to sign a statement attesting to their identity under penalty of perjury. The statement would also inform the voters that they are required to get a government-issued photo ID and that the state will cover the cost of obtaining that ID, as well as the cost of gathering underlying documents needed to get it, such as a birth certificate.
Additionally, a local election authority would be permitted to take a photo of any voter who doesn’t present a photo ID, which would become part of that individual’s voter registration file.
“No one would be disenfranchised by this bill,” said Rep. Justin Alferman, a Gasconade County Republican who sponsored the bill.
Democrats point out that under the current system, there has never been a reported case in Missouri of the type of fraud prevented by photo ID laws. A national study of the issue found only 10 alleged cases of in-person voter impersonation in the United States since 2000.
Critics also paint the issue as blatantly partisan, saying those who are less likely to have a government-issued photo ID are minority voters, college students and people living in poverty — groups statistically more likely to support Democrats.
The vote to override was along party lines, with all Republicans and an independent voting in favor and all Democrats voting against.
Rep. Stacey Newman, a Democrat from St. Louis County, said the bill has nothing at all to do with preventing fraud.
“This is about winning elections” for Republicans, Newman said. “This is about ignoring our constitution and ignoring our Supreme Court.”
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, said the bill is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
“It’s fraud to suggest that there is voter fraud,” she said.
Republican lawmakers repeatedly brought up a contested election for a House seat in St. Louis, where a judge recently ordered a do-over election after problems surfaced with absentee voting. Allegations of absentee ballot fraud have swirled.
The Missouri debate is playing out as voter ID laws face new scrutiny around the country.
Federal courts in North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin have struck down all or parts of voter ID laws in those states over the last two months.
In each case, the courts dismissed the main argument made by proponents of voter ID laws: that they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. The judges weren’t buying it, noting that the type of fraud voter ID laws aim to prevent — in-person voter fraud — is exceedingly rare.