By Celeste Bott
A controversial measure that would require a government-issued photo ID to vote was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday, with the Democratic governor arguing it would act as a barrier against citizens' fundamental right to vote.
It proved to be one of the most contentious items of debate during the 2016 legislative session, reflective of a broader ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans on voter access. GOP lawmakers argue the bill would prevent voter fraud, but their Democratic colleagues said it was a solution in search of a problem.
Missouri Democrats fought the issue throughout session, eventually winning some compromises. Under the measure, voters without a photo ID can sign an affidavit at the polls, swearing they are who they say they are under penalty of perjury. Their vote then counts so long as their signature matches the one on file.
Other provisions in the bill include exemptions for anyone born before 1946, anyone with a disability and those with religious objections to their photo being taken. Under the measure, the state also foots the bill for the IDs and any documents needed to get them.
Nixon argued that those allowances still don't go far enough, as some voters would still need to expend time and resources tracking down birth certificates or other documents to be issued identification.
Calling voter fraud "an extremely rare occurrence," in his veto message, Nixon said the bill was an attempt to dissuade certain communities from going to the polls, unfairly targeting senior citizens, the disabled and racial and ethnic minorities. He vetoed a similar bill in 2011.
"Due to the overwhelming evidence that photo ID requirements aren't necessary, the proliferation of these laws is widely understood to be motivated by an attempt to suppress turnout among certain classes of voters," Nixon said.
Sponsoring Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, called the veto "partisan politics at its worst" and said the Legislature would override it when they return for the veto session in September.
"Gov. Nixon has been pretty clear that having integrity in our elections is not a priority for him," Alferman said. "He's flat out lying when he's saying it will disenfranchise voters. We've gone above and beyond any other voter ID bill in the entire country to make sure people can vote."
The measure is also tied to a voter referendum clause, where voters will be asked to weigh in on the proposal's constitutionality in November. The bill Nixon vetoed Thursday lays out how the system would be implemented if voters approve the plan.
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