Feb 11 / Erin Ferns Lee

Voter ID Debate Weathers Storm: Bill Passes in S.C., another Brews in Missouri

After the state Supreme Court shut down Indiana’s contentious photo voter ID law as unconstitutional last September for unfairly exempting absentee voters, this year’s crop of voter ID bills appeared to be tweaked just enough to avoid major public scrutiny. This month, however, policymakers have returned to debating over traditional photo ID bills that pertain to voters who cast a ballot in person, and unfortunately, they are picking up in several states.

After much debate and media fanfare, South Carolina’s legislature has advanced a measure to require voters to present government issued photo ID when voting in person. The bill has undergone many amendments – the most recent being an early voting provision – and still needs to be cleared by the state House before going to the governor and the U.S. Department of Justice for final approval.

“Some lawmakers have argued that this change will be a big issue for some voters who don’t already have a photo ID,” according to local broadcast news station, WMBF News 13. “It is estimated that nearly 178,000 voters in South Carolina do not have a state issued photo ID, and some politicians worry the change will keep people from coming to the polls.”

If approved, this bill will not take effect until 2012.

Hundreds of thousands more voters may be affected in Missouri, thanks to a new proposal for a constitutional amendment that would impose government-issued photo ID requirements on all voters.

Over the last four years, voting rights coalitions have helped defeat a similar string of voter ID bills, but there is apparently no end in sight for this debate. HJR 64 was heard Tuesday in the House Elections Committee and has already undergone some changes. The first version of the bill exempted physically disabled and elderly voters, as well as those who cannot provide photo ID due to religious reasons. However, during Tuesday’s hearing, bill sponsor, Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia) presented an amended version that removes enabling language – including the exemptions – and simply allows the General Assembly to adopt a government issued photo voter ID requirement if passed by voters.

The bill was not voted upon due to time constraints as several witnesses were unable to voice their concerns. The hearing is expected to continue next week.

Missouri already has a commonsense voter identification law that ensures that eligible voters are who they say they are on Election Day. If a government-issued photo ID law were passed, the secretary of state estimates 230,000 Missouri voters who do not have driver’s licenses may become disenfranchised. Last year – in response to similar voter ID measure, HJR 9 – Carnahan said voter ID “would make it difficult or impossible for thousands of eligible Missourians to cast a ballot. I hope our legislators will take a closer look at this list and see that there are people in communities all over the state who risk being disenfranchised by this proposal.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch blog, Political Fix today, “State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, pushed Cox to provide details of alleged cases of actual voter fraud that would be fixed by the ID proposal. Cox pointed to allegations of registration fraud in Missouri and other states, but said he didn’t have examples of how this law would fix any existing problems.”

While HJR 64 – if passed in the legislature – wouldn’t become law until the voters pass it, “some Republicans plan to propose the actual enabling legislation this year,” the Post-Dispatch reports.

Other states to introduce voter ID legislation in February include Iowa (S 2231), Minnesota (H 2579), Rhode Island (H 7388 and S 2141), and Virginia (H 498. To monitor any of these bills, subscribe to Project Vote’s weekly Election Legislation eDigest by emailing Erin Ferns at eferns(at)projectvote.org.

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