Missouri legislators override governor's voter ID veto

The state legislators say that more stringent voter laws could prevent election fraud. Critics say that the measure is discriminatory and could disenfranchise minority voter groups. 

Julie Smith/The Jefferson City News-Tribune/AP/File
After debate on the voter identification bill, Rep. Justin Alferman (R) of Hermann looks to the voting board in the Missouri House chambers in Jefferson City, Mo, on Wednesday. Missouri's Republican-led legislature used its supermajority Wednesday to override a gubernatorial veto of a voter photo ID requirement, then took the first step toward enacting a measure that would significantly relax the state's gun laws.

Missouri is on track to becoming the next state with photo identification laws for voters, after the state legislature overrode a veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday.

Proponents argue that voter ID laws are a common sense measure that can reduce voter fraud, but critics say that such laws target low-income voters, many of whom are racial minorities, and keep them out of the ballot box. The issue has made national headlines as GOP politicians in states from North Carolina to Wisconsin have pushed for tougher ID laws. Many, however, have met pushback, with several courts ruling that the rules are unnecessary, or discriminatory. 

On Wednesday, members of the Missouri legislature’s Republican majority say that they are pleased with the progress they’ve made.

"I think a lot of the things that we've done today will resonate in the election in a very positive way," said House Speaker Todd Richardson (R).

Missouri voters must still approve a constitutional amendment to change the state’s voting laws, which will be on the ballot in November. If it passes, all voters will be required to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote, starting in 2017. The amendment includes provisions for voters without photo identification, as long as they possess another form of ID and begin steps to secure a photo ID.

An amendment is necessary because 10 years ago the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a similar law violated the state’s constitution.

Critics of voter ID laws say that they disenfranchise voters who cannot afford the time or money required to obtain a government-issued photo ID. Currently, in-person Missouri voting requires a government- or school-issued ID, check, bill, or government-issued document. 

Several other states have faced legal challenges to their own voter ID laws, including several high-profile cases this summer. In July, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina’s 2013 voter ID law targeted African American and young liberal voters with "almost surgical precision": removing an early voting day that fell on a Sunday, for example, that many black churches traditionally used to bring voters to the polls. Earlier that month, a federal judge dismantled some portions of Texas’s voter ID laws, and similar proposals were blocked in Wisconsin and Kansas, as well.

Opponents of voter ID laws, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired People, say that these laws are discriminatory, meant to prevent Democrat-leaning demographics from getting the polls. 

In North Carolina’s case, Judge Diana Motz's ruling said that partisan politics, not a desire to make elections more above-board, was behind the laws.

"The General Assembly enacted them in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting," Judge Motz wrote. "The district court clearly erred in ignoring or dismissing this historical background evidence, all of which supports a finding of discriminatory intent."

Missouri’s legislators say that they have taken care to eliminate potential accusations of discrimination by instituting provisions that resolve many common complaints about voter ID laws.

If voters agree to the constitutional amendment, the state will also be required to pay for birth certificates and other documents required to obtain photo IDs, as well as the IDs themselves. And if Missouri voters can swear that they do not have a photo ID, for example, then they can still vote by showing other forms of identification.

Still, Governor Nixon maintains that the amendment will do more harm than good. 

"Putting additional and unwanted barriers between citizens and their ability to vote is wrong and detrimental to our system of government as a whole," he said in a statement explaining his veto. 

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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