JEFFERSON CITY — Republican Missouri legislative leaders, backed by veto-proof majorities, will try again in 2016 to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, despite numerous failed attempts over the past decade.
Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee's Summit Republican running for secretary of state, pre-filed a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for photo identification and a bill that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID. GOP House members pre-filed similar measures.
A change to the state's constitution would be necessary before implementing a photo ID law because the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a similar measure in 2006 as unconstitutional.
Kraus said photo ID protects against people fraudulently impersonating other voters. Fraud has not been a significant problem in Missouri, according to Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander, whose office supervises elections.
Kraus' proposal would allow people to obtain free state photo ID cards if they don't already have a driver's license, military ID or other government-issued identification.
"My goal would be to make sure that we secure the election process and then make sure we do not disenfranchise anyone," Kraus said.
He cited a mayoral election in April in Kinloch, a St. Louis suburb. The city attorney served the incoming mayor, who won by 20 votes in an election in which only 58 voted, with impeachment papers after the city claimed 27 voters were illegally registered.
"That just shows you that there are people that would like to cheat elections," Kraus said.
Voters who are unable to obtain proper ID because of physical or mental disabilities, the cost, religious beliefs against such identification or those born in 1940 or earlier could vote provisionally. The votes would count if an election worker verified the voter's signature.
Others without photo identification could vote provisionally, but would need to return with proper ID in order for their votes to count.
Kander, who is running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate, said his office isn't aware of a case of voter impersonation in the state. But his office last year referred to prosecutors several instances of "potential irregularities" involving an initiative petition aimed at putting an early voting measure on the ballot. A report from his office found the initiative petition included the supposed signatures of dead people, among other potentially fraudulent names.
ID proposals have drawn criticism nationally, primarily from Democrats who say they mean some who are currently registered will lose the ability to vote.
Kander's office has said about 220,000 registered voters do not have a valid government-issued ID and would no longer be able to vote under a photo-identification requirement, according to a 2013 analysis.
"I don't support legislation that would disenfranchise eligible voters who have been legally voting for years and years," Kander said. "That's exactly what this legislation would do."
Democrats say the requirement could make it harder for older people, minorities and women to vote, because they might have more difficulty getting the supportive documents such as birth certificates or marriage licenses that are needed for a government photo ID.
Republicans generally support such measures as a way to ensure integrity of elections. If GOP lawmakers stick together they could push the bill through the Legislature and override a potential veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. The GOP has supermajorities in the House and Senate.
"There's almost universal agreement amongst Republicans," House Floor Leader Mike Cierpiot said. "It's something that we've talked about for a long time, and I'm anxious to actually get it across the finish line this year ."
The Senate's Republican leaders also said passing photo ID is a priority.
Successful passage next year would mark the second time Missouri lawmakers passed a photo ID requirement into law. The state Supreme Court struck down a 2006 law as an unconstitutional infringement on the fundamental right to vote.
Lawmakers in 2011 tried again and approved both a constitutional amendment to allow photo IDs and a statutory change. But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the legislation, and a trial judge rejected the ballot summary for the proposed constitutional amendment, calling it insufficient.
Photo requirements, now in effect in 16 states, have faced scrutiny from other courts. The U.S. Justice Department challenged photo identification requirements in North Carolina and Texas, and a federal appeals court in August found the 2011 Texas law has a "discriminatory effect" on minorities and violates the Voting Rights Act. The case against the North Carolina law is pending.
Judges have struck down identification laws in three states, including Missouri.
A Wisconsin requirement set to take effect in 2016 survived a legal challenge in December when a federal judge dismissed part of a suit challenging the photo ID requirement.
The Missouri legislative session begins Jan. 6.