JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers made a case to adopt stringent photo identification requirements for voting on Wednesday, just days after the state Supreme Court struck down key portions of a more lenient voter ID law as unconstitutional.
Judges last week permanently blocked a central provision of a 2016 voter identification law that required a sworn statement from people lacking a photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot, a move that Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said "eviscerated" the law.
The ruling means voters without a photo ID can show a utility bill or another document containing their name and address to cast a regular ballot without having to sign an affidavit.
This week, Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would instead give voters two options: either show a photo ID to cast a regular ballot or else cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots would be counted if voters return to their polling places on the same day with a valid photo ID or if their signatures match the ones on file with election authorities.
"We want the people of the state to know that it's harder potentially to cheat, but if they are registered they can vote and their vote will count," Ashcroft told a House committee considering the legislation, which he supports.
Missouri is one of several states where Republican-led legislatures have passed voter photo ID laws touted as a means of preventing in-person voter fraud, which studies have shown is very rare. Democrats generally oppose such laws, arguing that they are really meant to disenfranchise voter groups that tend to support their party, including the poor, elderly and disabled as well as transient college students and minorities who are less likely to have photo IDs.
Such proposals have fared poorly in Missouri courts. In 2006, the state adopted a law requiring photo ID to vote, but the state Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional. Republican lawmakers tried again in 2016, that time also sending a constitutional amendment to voters that would authorize a photo ID law. Roughly 63% of voters approved the amendment , but lower courts put key provisions of the new law on hold until the state Supreme Court last week permanently tossed out the affidavit requirement.
Constitutional attorney Denise Lieberman promised Republican lawmakers during Tuesday's committee hearing that the latest bill will also face a court challenge if it becomes law.
"If it passes this body, there will another lawsuit," Lieberman said. "And I will be happy to take part of that counsel team to challenge it, because it's critically important that we uphold our constitutional right to vote in Missouri."