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Missouri voters back photo ID mandate; court fight likely

Nearly two-thirds of voters in the Missouri election backed a constitutional amendment requiring them to show photo identification at the polls starting next summer, although legal experts predicted Wednesday that the mandate would have to survive another court challenge before taking effect.

The approval of the amendment Tuesday triggers a law the Republican-led Legislature passed this year that requires voters to present a form of government-issued photo identification, such as a passport or driver’s license, starting in June 2017. The state must pay for photo identification for those without it, and voters who sign an affidavit saying they don’t have proper ID can cast a regular ballot.

File photo

File photo

Republican backers say it helps prevent potential voter fraud, while Democratic opponents, including Gov. Jay Nixon, argued it would disenfranchise minorities, older voters and those with disabilities who might face challenges getting IDs.

Rep. Justin Alferman, a Republican who supports the law, said he was nearly certain it would face a challenge in court. He called that a “slap in the face … to the 63 percent of Missourians who went out and voted for it.”

Missouri was the only state this election to ask voters to consider a change in photo-identification requirements, said Wendy Underhill, the program director for elections at the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

She said 32 states had laws in effect this year requiring identification at the polls. Eight request that voters show photo ID but allow them to cast a ballot without taking additional steps, which is most similar to Missouri’s law. Seven states have stricter laws.

Missouri Republicans for more than a decade have sought to establish a photo ID requirement to vote. The state Supreme Court struck down one measure in 2006, saying the cost to obtain the identification was an unconstitutional burden on voters. So this year, Republicans proposed that the state would pay for voters’ IDs.

Alferman said that provision, along with the option for voters to cast regular ballots after signing an affidavit, could help the policy survive in court. Underhill also said states with an affidavit option have dodged legal challenges.

Election law expert Richard Reuben, a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, predicted a legal challenge over whether the potential burden of getting documentation necessary for a photo ID burdens voters’ rights, even with a free ID.

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