Voters Make Missouri a Voter ID State

GOP lawmakers in the state have been trying to pass a voter ID law for a decade. They finally got their way.
by | November 9, 2016
Missouri Republicans, including state Sen. Will Kraus, left, holding a press conference. (AP/David Lieb)

Read all of our coverage on 2016 ballot measures at governing.com/ballotmeasures.

Missouri Republicans have been persistent in their efforts to enact a photo identification requirement for voting. They've tried every year over the past decade, only to be stymied by court rulings or gubernatorial vetoes.

On Tuesday, the state's voters did it for them.

They passed a ballot measure by a roughly 2 to 1 margin that gives constitutional blessing to a voter ID law the legislature passed in September over Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto. Missouri will now join the more than 30 other states that have voter ID laws.

Concerns about voter fraud have been heightened this year by President-elect Donald Trump, who frequently spoke about the possibility of the vote being rigged. A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about half of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats believe that voter fraud is a serious problem.

Such fears, however, are proven to be unfounded.

Only 31 credible cases of in-person voter impersonation -- the kind of fraud photo IDs protect against -- occurred in elections conducted between 2000 and 2014, according to a count by Justin Levitt, a law professor who is now working for the U.S. Justice Department. That's out of more than 1 billion votes that were cast.

There have been no cases of in-person voter fraud in Missouri in at least 16 years, said David Kimball, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who opposed the ballot measure.

"While voter fraud has occurred, it's very rare," he said. "The photo ID requirement doesn't prevent the kind of voter fraud that does occur most frequently, which would be fraud involving absentee voting."

Democrats have consistently maintained that voter ID laws represent an attempt by Republicans to suppress the vote among demographic groups that favor their party.

Federal courts were skeptical about voter ID laws in the months leading up to Election Day. Voter ID requirements in states such as North Carolina and Texas have been struck down or sent back to lower courts for revision.

But Republican legislators in Missouri insist that their bill was carefully crafted to allay the type of concerns expressed by courts about other state laws. For instance, citizens who lack a photo ID will still be able to vote, as long as they sign a statement attesting to their own identity under penalty of perjury. That provision guarantees no one will be disenfranchised, said GOP state Sen. Will Kraus, who sponsored the law.

"That's been the remedy in other states where voter ID has been struck down in court," said Kimball, the political scientist. "The remedy, or the compromise, is to let them sign an affidavit and still vote."

But that's just an added hassle for voters, said Kimball.

Opponents of the law also noted that once the state constitution gives the green light for voter ID, there would be nothing to stop the legislature from imposing more onerous requirements. For that reason, Laura Swinford, executive director of Progress Missouri, a liberal advocacy group, called the ballot measure a "Pandora's box."

Progress Missouri joined with the AFL-CIO, AARP, NAACP and Missouri Faith Voices, among other groups, in a coalition to campaign against the ballot measure. But they were unable to convince voters that the ID requirement is a bad idea.

In April, Democrats in the Missouri Senate staged a filibuster against the voter ID bill that lasted into the early morning hours, blocking its passage. But the following week, the bill was approved anyway on a 24-8 party-line vote.

Read all of our coverage on 2016 ballot measures at governing.com/ballotmeasures.