A decade ago, Missouri Republicans began their quest to require voters to present a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot.
Every time they’ve gotten close to succeeding, something has come along to put the kibosh on the idea — either a court ruling, a Democratic filibuster or Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto pen.
GOP leaders believe they’ll take the first step toward finally putting the issue to rest when they return to the Capitol next month to consider whether to override Nixon’s latest veto of a voter ID bill.
Then in November, voters will weigh in on an amendment to the state constitution allowing a voter ID law, a necessary second step in the process because the Missouri Supreme Court previously declared voter ID laws unconstitutional.
“I’m very confident,” said Rep. Justin Alferman, a Gasconade County Republican who sponsored the voter ID bill this year. “A lot of work and compromise went into this year’s bill, and I don’t think the Democrats are going to fight this very hard.”
Compromise or not, Alferman’s hopes of Democrat complacency may not prove accurate.
“There will be a lot said about this bill when we get back to Jefferson City,” said state Sen. Kiki Curls, a Kansas City Democrat, hinting at a possible filibuster.
“Nothing is being ruled out at this point,” she added. “It’s a serious issue, and all options are on the table. It won’t be a quick vote where we all just immediately sit down.”
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.
That’s been Democrats’ counterargument for years. Under Missouri’s current system, where voters can prove their identity using things such as a utility bill or bank statement, there has never been a reported case of in-person voter fraud. 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 IDs are minority voters, college students and people living in poverty — groups statistically more likely to support Democrats.
In vetoing the bill last month, Nixon called the legislation “an affront to Missourians’ fundamental right to vote.”
“Making voting more difficult for qualified voters and disenfranchising certain classes of people is wrong,” Nixon said in a letter to lawmakers explaining his veto.
Alferman called this year’s Democratic opposition “ridiculous,” adding: “This is probably the best version of this bill that Democrats are ever going to get.”
And indeed, if passed into law, Missouri’s voter ID bill would be among the least restrictive in the nation.
In a compromise struck in the Missouri Senate to end a Democratic filibuster, the voter ID bill would still allow Missourians to cast ballots even if they don’t have a government-issued photo ID. Those voters would be required to sign a statement attesting to their identity under penalty of perjury.
The statement would 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.
“You can’t make the argument that we’re going to disenfranchise any voter with this bill,” Alferman said. “If you don’t have an ID, you sign an affidavit and are allowed to vote.”
The compromise struck in the Senate was enough to win over one voter ID skeptic: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster would have signed the legislation into law, saying it protects “the integrity of the right to vote without placing excessive regulations on the voting process.”
“That’s huge, huge news,” Alferman said. “This is the standard bearer for the Democratic Party.”
Curls said Democrats may have agreed to end their filibuster during the session, but that doesn’t mean they like the final product.
“We didn’t have the numbers to stop it, so we did what we could to make it less onerous,” she said. “But it’s still a bad bill.”
The bill cleared the House with 112 votes, three more than the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Two Republicans have resigned since that vote, but five others were absent when the bill was approved and presumably would vote to override.
In the Senate, the bill passed on a 24-8 party-line vote. It takes 23 votes to override a veto.
“It’s frustrating that after all the work we put into this bill to make sure the old arguments were no longer valid, Democrats still trot out the old arguments,” Alferman said. “In the past, these bills required people to pay for something, like a birth certificate, in order to vote. I can see where that could disenfranchise some voters. This bill won’t disenfranchise a single voter.”