The Associated Press
BRENTWOOD, Mo. — As lawmakers advanced a proposal Thursday that could lead to photo ID requirements for voters, Lillie Lewis expressed fears that a chain reaction of circumstances could make it difficult for her to vote in Missouri.
Lewis, 71, said her driver’s license expires in June. But because of a government building fire in her native Mississippi, Lewis said she doesn’t have a birth certificate that she believes is necessary to renew her license.
If lawmakers place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot authorizing voter photo ID requirements, and it passes, she fears she would be unable to show a proper ID come the next general election.
“My right to vote will be denied,” she said at a news conference with Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, an opponent of the photo ID requirement.
As Carnahan criticized the measure, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof praised the photo ID provisions “as reasonable reforms that will help ensure our election results are accurate and trustworthy.”
“Missourians have to show their ID to get on an airplane or cash a check,” Hulshof said. “It is logical to provide similar proof of citizenship when it comes time to cast a ballot.”
The House voted 89-69 — with Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, the only member to cross party lines and vote with Democrats against it — to send the proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate, which has just one week remaining to act on the measure before the end of the legislative session.
If referred to the ballot and adopted by voters, the proposed constitutional amendment would clear the way for the Legislature to adopt a bill requiring voters to prove their citizenship and legal residence in Missouri, including by showing a valid government-issued photo identification.
The constitutional amendment states that those lacking photo IDs could receive a free one from the government.
But Diana Oleskevich, justice coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, nonetheless expressed concerns. She said a “significant number of bright, intelligent women” in that St. Louis-based religious community “long ago gave up driving.
“They’re in their 80s and 90s now and are hard pressed to get the documents they need to vote,” she said.
Carnahan said elections can’t be fair if otherwise eligible voters are barred for lack of a government ID, which she said fits an estimated 240,000 Missourians. She said there have been no cases of voter impersonation fraud, and that voters already identify themselves at the polls with a driver’s license or military card, a passport, voter registration card, utility bill, or bank statement.
Republican supporters of the voter photo ID requirement said there has been voter fraud in past years and asserted that requiring Missourians to show a photo ID at the polls would help safeguard the state’s elections. They argue people already must show identification for a number of daily functions.
“This idea that you’re going to disenfranchise somebody by making them prove who they are so we can guarantee to the people an honest vote is appalling,” said Rep. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis.
But Democrats argue it would make it harder for people to vote, and questioned whether requiring a photo ID to vote would have done anything for the most likely instances of voter fraud in recent Missouri elections — through absentee ballots and voter registration.
“This is simply politically motivated to disenfranchise a group of people who either can’t afford an ID, or who don’t want to get an ID, but they don’t usually vote for the majority party,” said Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence.
The Legislature already has approved a measure that required voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls. But the Missouri Supreme Court tossed out that 2006 law. The high court ruled the law violated the state constitution by imposing too great of a burden on voting rights.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar Indiana voter ID law doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution. In the wake of that decision, House leaders said it makes sense to “keep the issue in play” in Missouri.