Senate won't delay on voter ID issue

A Missouri Senate committee already has taken testimony on Sen. Will Kraus' proposal to require voters to show a photo ID when they go to vote at the polls.

This week's House passage of a similar constitutional amendment and enabling legislation bill put those two measures in the Senate as well.

And Senate floor leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told reporters Thursday the Senate won't delay the bills.

"Voter ID was one of those things we thought was important to have an early discussion about," he explained. "It's something that, I would think, early on we'll have quite a bit of time for discussion."

Kehoe acknowledged most Democrats oppose the idea.

"But, in my district, as I travel around Missouri, Missourians pretty much believe that, if you need a photo ID to rent a jet ski, you should probably have to have one to vote for the most powerful person in the world," he said.

Opponents argue voting is a right, and people shouldn't be blocked from exercising that right by a requirement to have only specified forms of identification.

"Voting is an important right," Kehoe said. "I think it's a right that people have spilled blood all across this world to grant us."

And that makes it even more important to have a regulation that prevents people from voting fraudulently, he said.

Opponents of a voter ID mandate argue no one has cited a specific example of someone trying to be someone else in order to cast a vote.

Supporters also are encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 ruling to uphold Indiana's photo voter ID requirement. And within the last year, the nation's highest court also has allowed the ID requirements approved by Texas and North Carolina.

But Missouri opponents also point to the existing state Constitution, which says: "All citizens of the United States, including occupants of soldiers' and sailors' homes, over the age of eighteen who are residents of this state and of the political subdivision in which they offer to vote are entitled to vote at all elections by the people ..."

The proposed amendment voters would see later this year doesn't change the existing language, but asks voters to establish a new constitutional provision authorizing the Legislature to require a photo ID.

Are supporters concerned their idea would lose in a lawsuit?

"Of course, we're going to look at that before it takes the floor," Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said Thursday.

"We don't want to take something that's unconstitutional."

Kehoe expects the Senate to debate the idea near the end of the month.

"We're certainly not going to do somersaults to make it speed up," he said, "but we're certainly going to make sure it doesn't get slowed down either."