That the bill is originating in the Senate is significant, observers said, because the upper chamber has been the hurdle in recent years. The state House has passed voter identification legislation in each of the last seven years, but those bills have all died in the Senate.
“The fact that our Senate is moving first on [the bill] this year may be an indication that we might move this year,” said state House Speaker Tim Jones (R), a supporter of voter identification laws. “If the Senate is successful, it will move in the House.”
Republicans control both chambers of the Missouri legislature, but Democrats hope to stand in the bill’s way. Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) said about 150,000 registered voters don’t have identifications, and another 70,000 have identifications that have expired.
“As the state’s chief elections officer, it is my job to make sure that only eligible voters vote, but also that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote,” Kander said in a statement earlier this week. “This proposed legislation could keep hundreds of thousands of current Missouri voters from voting, which is not only just wrong, but unconstitutional.”
“This is essentially ‘REAL ID’ all over again,” he said.
The legislation before the Senate would amend Missouri’s constitution to require a photo identification. A companion bill would lay out the details of which identifications would be acceptable to voting officials.
“We want to make sure that every single person has the ability to vote, but we’re also very concerned about the integrity of the vote,” Jones said.
Gov. Jay Nixon (D) vetoed similar legislation in 2011. Nixon has not indicated whether he would veto this version of the voter ID legislation. If he does, the legislature, in which Republicans hold a veto-proof majority, would likely overturn that veto.
If passed, Missouri would join five other states with strict voter identification laws in effect. Five other states have passed similar laws, which prevent voters from casting regular ballots without an identification. Three other states require identification, though not necessarily a photo identification.