JEFFERSON CITY - After nearly 90 minutes of heated debate Thursday morning, the Missouri House of Representatives passed two measures that would require Missouri voters to show photo identification.
The measures consist of a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to require a photo ID at the polls and a bill that actually creates a voter ID requirement. The amendment would go before voters in November 2014 if it clears the senate.
Debate was intense and divided along party lines. At one point, Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, asked Columbia Democrat Chris Kelly to defend his comments during Wednesday evening's debate in which Kelly compared the bill to Jim Crow laws. Kelly replied that while he did not believe the bill's sponsors had racist intentions, a voter ID requirement's effects would be racist, because it would prevent poor black voters from voting. Marshall disagreed that the bill would have racist effects and said, "The ballot box must remain pure."
Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, said voter ID laws were constitutional, pointing to a recent supreme court case in which a voter ID law was upheld. In that case, Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Indiana had a valid interest in deterring fraud. Frederick said putting the issue to a popular vote was a good idea.
Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, spoke at length against the measure, saying it is "serious business" to discuss taking voting rights away. She called comments about fundamental rights and preventing fraud a smokescreen for what she called "purely a voter suppression issue."
Thursday morning's vote marks the sixth time since 2006 a voter ID proposal has passed at least one chamber of the Missouri General Assembly. Republican lawmakers have supported such a provision almost every year since the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a voter ID law in 2006. That proposal became state law but was struck down before elections that fall. Legislators tried to bring the idea back in 2008 and 2010. Both times, the proposal cleared one chamber but did not get through the entire legislature. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a voter-ID bill in June 2011. Most recently, in March of 2012, Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce struck down the ballot summary for a constitutional amendment, saying it was unfairly written.
Court opinions are divided on the legality of voter ID laws. A Pennsylvania judge blocked a voter ID law in that state last October, saying there wasn't enough time left to distribute free IDs to those who needed them. Yet the judge did not actually strike down the law. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Indiana's voter ID law was constitutional in a 6-3 vote. Writing for the majority, then-Justice John Paul Stevens wrote "There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of a State's interest in counting only eligible voters' votes." In a dissenting opinion, then-Justice David Souter wrote, "Poor, old, and disabled voters who do not drive a car, however, may find the trip [to the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles for a photo ID] prohibitive."
The two measures still have to pass the senate before going to Missouri voters.