JEFFERSON CITY — With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday eliminating a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, southern states are gearing up for photo-based voter identification – something Missouri Republicans have long sought but haven’t been able to implement.
The court’s 5-4 ruling won’t have a direct impact on Missouri, because it isn’t among the states that needed Justice Department approval before changing election laws. But Missouri lawmakers could feel an added boost and ride the wave of those states now expected to pass stricter voting measures.
After the high court announced its ruling this week, state officials in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama announced plans to move forward with implementing laws that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. Additionally, Republicans in North Carolina signaled that they will be pushing for similar legislation there.
Momentum toward photo voter ID laws has been building over the past decade. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, legislation was introduced in 30 state capitals this year.
Eighteen states have already passed photo requirement laws, according to NCSL's figures, but the laws have only gone into effect in 11 (others have been awaiting Justice Department approval or the results of court cases).
The Missouri Supreme Court struck down the state’s 2006 photo ID law as unconstitutional before it went into effect because the Missouri constitution places a higher emphasis on the right to vote. Lawmakers here have taken as a signal that they need a constitutional amendment.
The House approved legislation this year that – if approved by voters - would require photo identification at the polls, but the effort stalled in the Senate – apparently the result of a deal between Democrats and Republicans in that chamber.
It’s highly likely that the proposal – or a similar one - will come up again next year.
Already, Missouri requires voters to show some form of nonphoto identification, such as a utility bill or a voter registration card. But supporters of the photo-based effort argue that the state remains vulnerable to voter fraud that can affect elections.
“Anytime someone votes who is not entitled to vote, it waters down our votes,” state Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said on the House floor during one of the debates on the proposal this session.
Critics of the measure say the photo requirement is unnecessary and will create an additional burden that falls disproportionately onto older, poor and minority voters — groups that tend to sway Democratic.
Appearing in St. Louis for an unrelated event today, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, expressed his disappointment over the high court's Voting Rights Act ruling.
“Discrimination still exists in our society,” he said. “I think the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday, taking away some strong and effective tools toward equality, is not the right direction. We have made progress, but we are not to the finish line."