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Monday, September 22, 2014

Missouri voter ID legislation passes House, heads to Senate for vote

The push enjoyed support from Republican legislators, but opponents say the measure could disenfranchise up to 220,000 Missouri voters.

Stricter voting requirements could come to Missouri next year if they’re not shot down along the way.

Most Statehouse legislators were betting on the former as two proposals from Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, passed the House last week.

The first was a constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to change voting requirements for Missourians in an election, should it be approved by voters in November. The second is a bill that outlined changes to those requirements, the first and foremost of which was a change in voter identification procedures.

At present, would-be Missouri voters can register with a student ID, utility statement or a personal check. Under Dugger’s House Bill 1073, election officials would only be able to accept government-issued photo IDs: driver’s licenses, non-driver IDs or U.S. passports.

Dugger said his bill comes out of a need for legislators to tackle voter fraud. Opponents, mostly Democrats, questioned the pervasiveness of voter fraud in Missouri.

Dugger, though, noted that there have been instances of fraudulent voter registration in the past.

“So why would you fraudulently register someone if you did not intend to vote ... fraudulently?” he asked.

Opponents also insist that stricter photo ID requirements could make for lower turnout of elderly, disabled and minority voters who often lack government-issued ID and may have fewer resources or methods of transportation to access the documents necessary to obtain one.

The bill, however, would require that state revenues cover the cost of procuring documents necessary to register. Voters, Dugger said, wouldn’t have to pay a dime — a counter to criticisms that his bill was a reinvention of the poll tax.

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, according to a report released by his office, believes that the legislation could disenfranchise up to 220,000 already-registered voters.

“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 the report. “This proposed legislation could keep hundreds of thousands of current Missouri voters from voting, which is not only just wrong, but unconstitutional.”

Of the 220,000 potential disenfranchised voters, the report named the demographics most at risk because of HB1073. Among them were students with school-issued ID, seniors who no longer drive and Missourians who have to use public transportation: all groups that often possess less access to transportation to ID-issuing facilities.

State Rep. Pat Conway, D-St. Joseph, authored an amendment to Dugger’s bill that would have expanded the list of valid identification to include student IDs issued by Missouri universities or technical schools. That amendment was rejected.

“They could have made it broader and somewhat more palatable had they been able to allow for student IDs and other identification issued by the government and private universities to qualify as an acceptable form of identification,” Conway said.

Now, Dugger’s legislation heads to the Senate, where a still solidly-Republican majority is expected to pass it to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk.

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