Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, Jan. 27, 2013

PHoto Identification for Voters

In 2013, a Cincinnati, Ohio, woman was charged with voting multiple times… casting a ballot no less than six times.

In 2012, a father attempted to vote using his son’s name in Albuquerque, N.M. Only a very alert election judge caught the attempt.

In 2010, a Missouri state representative’s primary race was decided by one vote. Years later, the elected official’s aunt and uncle admitted to voting out of their district.

In all cases, requiring valid government photo identification with a current address could have stopped the voter fraud.

Eighteen states have enacted laws requiring a photo identification to vote. Eleven of those states’ laws are active and have either not been challenged or have been upheld by state courts. Indiana passed one of the first and toughest laws.

Missouri passed a photo identification law in 2006, but it was ruled unconstitutional by the courts because it might have cost voters money to get an ID.  In 2011, the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment initiative and a supporting law. The law was vetoed by the governor. The proposed ballot language was struck down by courts, only because of a faulty title. The court did not rule against the constitutionality of the new language.

This year, I have introduced Senate Joint Resolution 31, which would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November.  The title has been altered, and I believe it will pass any court challenge. The amendment simply allows, but does not mandate, the General Assembly to pass a requirement to provide photo identification to vote. Regardless of passage of an actual statute, I believe we should give Missouri voters a voice on this issue.

I have also filed Senate Bill 511, which would set the statutory framework for requiring photo identification. If passed and signed by the governor, this bill would require a valid government-issued photo identification to vote. Such identification would include a Missouri driver’s license or non-driver’s ID, a military ID or other state or federal government ID. One non-driver’s ID would be made available free to any resident who could not afford a required ID. Any registered voter who came to the poll and did not have a valid ID could vote using a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot signature would then be checked by the election authority for accuracy. There is also a provision to allow provisional ballots for anyone born before 1941, when birth certificates were not as readily available.

I believe through this legislation that we have made sure all voters who are eligible to vote and registered to vote will be able to vote. I don’t believe that a single voter will be disfranchised using the language in SB 511. It is important to note that in two of the earliest states to adopt strict photo ID standards, Indiana and Georgia, voter turnout was at record levels for the 2012 elections. Their identification requirements did not suppress votes.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of people trying to scam the election system. These efforts are well documented, both in Missouri and nationwide. They happen at the registration level, with absentee ballots and at the polls. People try to vote where and when they are not allowed. It stands to reason that people commit voter impersonation fraud, but we can’t catch them because there is no enforcement mechanism. Requiring a photo ID gives election authorities and poll workers that tool. Imagine if we did not require a photo ID to buy alcohol…how would we catch anyone under 21 who bought liquor?

SJR 31 and SB 511 were both heard earlier this week in the Senate Committee on Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections. I fully expect the committee will vote on both measures over the next few weeks.