Will Missouri Be the Next State with a Voter ID Law?

A voter in Eau Claire, Wisc., hands her photo identification card to an election assistant on March 21, 2016, at the City of Eau Claire Elections Office.

A voter in Eau Claire, Wisc., hands her photo identification card to an election assistant on March 21, 2016, at the City of Eau Claire Elections Office. (Marisa Wojcik/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP)

May 12, 2016

Missouri is poised to become the latest state in the nation to move towards requiring a photo ID at the polls.

On Wednesday night, the state Senate voted 24-8 to approve a measure that will effectively let voters determine whether to require voter ID at the polls. It’s expected to pass the House today. Should it do so, Republican lawmakers say they have enough votes to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Missouri lawmakers have tried to pass a voter ID law for 10 years, arguing that it is necessary to prevent voter fraud. In 2006, the state’s Supreme Court declared a previous voter ID law unconstitutional. The bill is paired with a separate measure that, if approved by voters this fall, would amend the state constitution to allow for a photo ID requirement at the polls.

Missouri’s initiative comes as voters in 10 other states will face stricter ID requirements for the first time in a presidential election. In April, a federal court upheld a law in North Carolina requiring voter ID at the polls, although civil-rights groups said they will appeal the ruling. A few days later, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a similar law in Texas to remain in place while the case is argued before a federal appeals court.

Voter ID laws are controversial because they are deeply partisan. They are sponsored and passed overwhelmingly by Republicans, who say they want to prevent even isolated cases of voter fraud. They are opposed by Democrats who say that the laws suppress turnout among disadvantaged groups, particularly blacks and Latinos, low-income voters and the elderly — who also are more likely to vote for Democrats.

There hasn’t yet been a conclusive study to show whether such laws suppress voting, but a 2014 evaluation by the Government Accountability Office of voter ID laws in Tennessee and Kansas found that overall turnout dropped by a few percentage points. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of California in San Diego found that ID laws in 10 states, including Texas, Mississippi and Ohio, have led to “substantial drops” in minority turnout. For example in primaries, the study found that a strict ID law could depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, black turnout by 8.6 points and Asian-American turnout by 12.5 points.

In a few instances, Republicans have said publicly that the laws would help their party. In Pennsylvania in 2012, amid a state estimate that more than 758,000 registered voters didn’t have an acceptable ID, House majority leader Mike Turzai said that voter ID was “gonna allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state.” (The law was later struck down by a state court.)

In Wisconsin last month, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman told an interviewer that a newly implemented photo ID requirement would “make a little bit of a difference” for Republicans in November. Previously, a state expert testified that between 200,000 and 300,000 people lacked a state-issued photo ID.

In Missouri, state law already requires voters to present some form of identification at the polls, such as a driver’s license, utility bill or locally issued voter ID card. This legislation would prohibit non-photo IDs, including local voter ID cards, and require that state IDs not be expired.

“I want to make sure we protect the integrity of our elections,” said Republican state senator Will Kraus, who supports the measure. He cited an ongoing investigation into alleged false registrations in a municipal election in April as an example of “individuals trying to change the outcome of elections.”

Kraus said under current law, utility bills and other non-photo IDs could be stolen and presented by those trying to impersonate legitimate voters.

An analysis of the bill by Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, said his office hadn’t received “a single case” of voter impersonation fraud. It also found that such a measure could disenfranchise an estimated 220,000 voters, although a fiscal note on the bill prepared for the House identified nearly 380,000 potential voters who lack identification.

“Because it specifically requires a state-issued photo ID, you begin wading into the territories of individuals, especially women, who have had their last name changed, older Missourians who have issues with their birth certificates, or those who have lost documentation,” said Kevin Garner, a spokesman for Progress Missouri, an advocacy group that opposes the law.

Kraus said the Secretary of State’s figures were “grossly exaggerated,” adding that it wouldn’t take long, or cost much money, to ensure that everyone who needs a state-issued ID receives one. A House estimate put the cost at roughly $10 million in the first year.

Before the bill was passed, Rep. Bill Kidd, a Republican and one of the sponsors, acknowledged at a hearing of the House Elections Committee that the law might disenfranchise voters, according to a video of the proceedings. “That’s absolutely not the intent at all,” he continued. “It may be an unintended consequence, but it’s not the intent.” Kidd didn’t respond to calls and an email seeking a comment.

Kraus said the bill has since been modified to allow voters without an ID to cast a ballot if they sign a statement under penalty of perjury certifying that they are aware that they could get an ID free of charge.

That stipulation will likely be removed in a year or so, he said, once voters have had a chance to get an ID. “So we could have a strict law in the future.” He added: “I’m glad we struck a balance that we can get this to the voters, and I believe it will become law.”

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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