Missouri Republicans are asking voters to change the state’s constitution to impose a voter ID law. If they succeed, the voting rights of more than 200,000 Missourians could be at risk.
State lawmakers took the final step Friday morning to pass a pair of bills that will put voter ID on the ballot this November. One measure approves the ballot resolution to go before voters. The other, which goes into effect only if the ballot measure succeeds, establishes a voter ID law.
The two-step process is needed because of a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling, which held that Missouri’s constitution prohibits voter ID. The constitution can only be amended by a vote of the people.
The legislature’s move sets up a rare election campaign directly over voter ID, which will play out in concert with the presidential campaign.* Missouri is considered a safe Republican state, but Donald Trump’s all-but-certain nomination could make it closer than expected.
Around 220,000 Missourians lack a photo ID, according to a tally by Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat. Typically, those without ID are disproportionately non-white. The bills’ passage comes after an uptick in political engagement among blacks in the St. Louis area, sparked by the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown and the Black Lives Matter movement.
State Republicans have tried for years to pass voter ID. They succeeded after expanding their veto-proof majorities in both houses in the 2014 elections.
The ID law allows voters who don’t have an ID to sign an affidavit at the polls affirming that they are who they say they are. But that did little to ease the concerns of the measure’s opponents.
“We hear people say, ‘Well, you know, everybody has an ID, everybody has a bank account,’” state Rep. Brandon Ellington said during the debate Thursday. “Well, that’s ignorance, because that shows the fact that you don’t understand the difference between a privilege and a right. It’s a privilege to have an ID.”
ID laws in several other states, including Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, have caused confusion at the polls and disenfranchised voters in recent elections.
Supporters of the Missouri bill say a photo ID requirement is needed to stop voter impersonation fraud at the polls. Studies have shown people are more likely to be struck by lightning than commit such fraud.
“We are disappointed the Missouri legislature made it a priority to add barriers that make it harder for eligible Missourians to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Missourians deserve more access to voting, not less.”
CORRECTION: This post originally reported that the legislature had overridden a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon. In fact, the governor’s signature isn’t required for a ballot measure, and the ID bill hasn’t yet gone to the governor. Any veto by Nixon is expected to be overridden.