Missouri Republicans stand on the verge of completing a nearly decade-long push to mandate that voters produce government-issued photo IDs.
That’s probably why a $79,900 item in the state’s $26 billion budget has drawn so much attention.
The potential menace of voter fraud has been the rallying cry for the GOP’s voter ID efforts, stifled for years by court rulings and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto pen.
A Senate committee last week approved a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment, putting it a full Senate vote away from the November ballot.
To opponents, voter ID laws seem aimed less at preventing fraud and more at keeping likely Democratic voters away from the polls. To supporters, Democrats are exaggerating the potential impact of voter ID laws to rally their political base.
Critics of stricter voter ID rules got fresh ammunition for their argument two weeks ago, when House Majority Leader John Diehl, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs, stripped money from the budget of the secretary of state’s office intended to hire two new election fraud investigators.
The $79,900 (that accounts only for salaries; benefits would come from a different part of the budget) was redirected by Diehl. He put the money into the Utilicare program, which helps elderly, disabled or income-qualified people with winter utility costs. All told, Diehl shifted more than $6 million into that program from various areas of the budget.
“Republicans want to pay lip service to voter fraud but have no interest in funding our office’s serious effort to uphold the integrity of our elections,” said Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Kansas City Democrat. “It’s nothing more than political gamesmanship.”
Diehl pushed back at the cries of hypocrisy from Democratic lawmakers, arguing that Kander’s office already has 271 full-time employees. That should be enough, he said, to “maintain the integrity of our elections.”
Kander said the two new employees will be needed as his office gears up for the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential elections. He’s confident the funds will be put back into the budget by the Senate.
In Kansas, a photo ID requirement to votehas been in place since 2012. A lawsuit challenging the law will go to trial next year
New voters in Kansas must also provide evidence of U.S. citizenship when they register.
A form of ID must already be shown in Missouri before an individual is allowed to vote. But that’s not limited to items with photos. A utility bill, bank statement or paycheck can suffice.
Opponents of voter ID laws contend that they disproportionately hurt elderly, minority and low-income groups. Kander’s office estimated that 220,000 people could be denied the ability to vote if a photo identification requirement were adopted, although that figure is hotly contested by Republicans.
A report by Reuters and the research firm Ipsos in 2012 found thatthose who lack valid photo ID
tended to be young people, those without college educations, Hispanics and the poor. They also found that those voters were much less likely to cast ballots anyway.
With no evidence of fraud at Missouri’s polling places, Democrats argue, there is no need to implement tougher standards on the constitutional right to cast a vote.
“We are going to make war on fundamental voting rights for 220,000 Missourians, for poor people and for black people, so you can entertain a fantasy,” Rep. Chris Kelly, a Columbia Democrat.
A lack of reported cases of in-person fraud in Missouri doesn’t mean there has been no fraud, said Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican. It just means those people haven’t been caught.
Incidents have occurred in other states, he said, pointing to a case in 2012 in Albuquerque, N.M., where afather allegedly showed up at a polling place to vote on behalf of his 18-year-old son
“How does someone catch a person who is impersonating someone else unless they are mandated to show a photo ID?” Kraus asked. “The only reason the guy in New Mexico was caught was because a white-haired man was trying to cast a vote as someone who was born in 1994.”
In 2006, Republicans pushed through a photo ID bill that was later struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court. That ruling means lawmakers must take a two-pronged approach to implementing a voter ID requirement. They have to place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot for voter approval as well as pass a separate bill detailing how the law would work.
That’s exactly what they did in 2011. But Nixon vetoed the bill to implement voter ID. Later, a judge struck down the ballot summary for the proposed constitutional amendment, so it never went before voters.
The Republican plan calls for the state to cover the costs of obtaining photo IDs for those who can’t afford to do so. It does not, however, cover the cost of documents that may be needed to acquire an ID, such as birth certificates.
Nonexpired driver’s licenses, state-issued nondriver’s licenses and military IDs would qualify under the proposed legislation. Some other forms, such as a university ID, would not.
The bill exempts several groups that could have problems getting a photo ID. For example, anyone born before 1941. Those individuals would be allowed to cast provisional ballots that would be counted only after election officials verify their identities by comparing their signatures with those on file.