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Missouri voter photo ID measures pass House committee

A Missouri House committee approved a pair of measures Tuesday aimed at requiring government-issued photo identification to vote.

A similar ID law was struck down in 2006, with the Missouri Supreme Court saying it violated state residents’ constitutional right to vote. So, Republicans plan to turn the question to voters. One measure approved Tuesday would ask voters to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow photo ID requirements. The other bill would establish the legal framework for implementing such requirements.

The bills, which both passed the Missouri House Committee on Elections by an 8-3 vote, are on a fast track, according to Rep. Sue Entlicher, a Republican from Bolivar who chairs the panel. She said House Speaker Todd Richardson wants a floor vote on the bills next week, though they still must be approved from the House Select Committee on State and Local Governments.

Missouri law currently allows voters to identify themselves with a bank statement, paycheck or a government document that includes the voter’s address. Voters also can use driver’s licenses or identification from colleges and universities in Missouri. Under the new measure, voters would need an unexpired photo ID issued by Missouri, the federal government or the armed forces; student photo IDs would not be sufficient.

The bills’ sponsors say Missouri needs tighter voting laws to stop any possibility of fraudulent voting, and Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who sponsored the statutory change bill, said the legislation includes safeguards against disenfranchisement.

Photo ID requirements would only apply if the Legislature appropriates money each year to help people get the documents they need, Alferman said, even if that means requesting records from other states or countries. Legislative researchers have estimated the bill could cost as much as $17 million over the next three fiscal years.

But lawmakers only have to earmark $1 for the requirements to kick in, said Otto Fajen, the legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association, who opposed the bill

Before the committee voted, 11 people testified against the two measures. Nobody testified in favor.

Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel said the photo ID requirements would disproportionately affect minority voters, adding that they’re tantamount to Jim Crow-era poll taxes.

“You don’t have to put a color in a bill for it to have a racially discriminatory effect,” he said.

Rep. Tony Dugger, a Republican from Hartville who sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment and used to be the Wright County clerk, said he believes there is voter fraud in Missouri but it’s “virtually impossible to prove without a photo ID.”

Another piece of the measure would allow some people without photo IDs to cast a provisional ballot if they meet certain requirements. The voter would need to sign an affidavit stating that he or she could not obtain a photo ID because of a disability, the cost of an ID or the source documents, religious beliefs or because the voter was born before 1946.

Currently, provisional ballots are counted if election authorities later can verify the identity of voters by comparing their signatures to those already on file or if voters return within three days with a valid identification.

“Provisional ballots do not mean anything,” said St. Louis Rep. Stacey Newman, one of the committee’s three Democrats who voted against the bills. Such ballots are rarely counted, she said, “so don’t tell me it’s the same thing (as a regular ballot). It’s not the same thing.”

Seventeen states require a photo ID to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Similar legislation has been filed in the Missouri Senate.