Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court gutted the state’s voter ID law.
This week, Missouri Republicans are rewriting it.
Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, came before a House committee Wednesday with a bill ready-made to counter the high court decision.
Judges said the state can’t require people voting with nonphoto IDs to swear they are who they claim to be, so Simmons’ bill nixes that entirely. Under his bill, only people with photo IDs could cast a regular ballot. People without a photo ID would cast a provisional ballot that would be counted if their signature on it matches the one on their voter registration file.
It’s not clear whether that would survive legal scrutiny. A 5-2 majority of high court judges considered a similar concept “nonsensical” last week.
Simmons didn’t seem too interested in their concerns.
When he spoke of their decision, he instead knocked what he considered their “disregard” for the choice 63 percent of Missouri voters made when they changed the constitution to allow photo ID requirements in 2016.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a fellow Republican and longtime supporter of voter ID, made similar comments to the News-Leader last week.
Ashcroft adopted a conciliatory tone Wednesday. In his speech to the committee, he described the bill not as retaliation against the court, but as a chance for everyone to come together and end confusion about voter ID.
“I think that if we clean this up and say, 'You have your photo ID or you just have a provisional ballot,' it's easy to message, it's easy to understand and we just get back to making sure that everyone who's registered can vote,” Ashcroft said. “And we can just try to put the lawsuits and confusion behind us.”
While people without photo ID would have to cast provisional ballots, Ashcroft said nearly all of those end up counting once signatures are checked.
(Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller has said that’s true in Greene County.)
Opponents don’t buy it.
Denise Lieberman, a voting rights attorney arguing another case against the state on the voter ID law, said the bill was just another bad idea the court would reject.
“The proposal you have here before you today is as unconstitutional now as the original photo ID law passed in 2006,” she said, referencing the first voter ID law the Missouri Supreme Court struck down. “We need to end this 14-year saga.”
Lieberman said it would also needlessly cause problems for more than 200,000 people estimated to lack photo IDs in 2017.
She conceded they could still cast provisional ballots, but worried about voters like her mother, who has hand tremors and can’t replicate the signature in her voter registration file.
"This will leave people out,” Lieberman said.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, who sat in on the hearing, had a similar take.
"Rather than pass yet another attack on voting rights that will be struck down by the court," she said, "we should focus on making voting easier and more accessible for all Missouri voters."
Rod Chapel, director of the state NAACP, seconded her sentiments. He also chastised the Republican-led committee for fighting so hard for voter ID despite thin evidence that the kind of fraud voter ID detects is a problem.
National studies over multiple election cycles have indicated in-person voter fraud is practically non-existent.
“You are fighting a battle that has no legitimate purpose,” Chapel said.
Committee Chair Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, took umbrage at that, though, in a clear indication of where he and other Republicans stand.
“Who are you to say it’s not a legitimate purpose?” Shaul shot back. “I am elected by 36,000 people in my district that say this is a legitimate purpose to have an election where every vote counts and it's not watered down by fraud and abuse.”
The committee took no action on the bill Wednesday morning, which is what usually happens the first time a bill is heard.
The legislation is House Bill 1600.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. He covers state government, Missouri's congressional delegation and the 2020 elections. He can be reached at 417-403-8096 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consider supporting local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.