JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Republican lawmakers are taking another swing at insisting Missouri voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polls.
And theyre meeting fierce resistance.
Leaders of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus said Tuesday the Republican push aims to disenfranchise and suppress certain voters the disabled, the young and minorities.
This is nothing more than a modern-day poll tax, said Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat, referring to the tax implemented in some states in the late 19th century to shut out black voters. Voting is a right. Its not a privilege. Theyre trying to turn it into a privilege.
Republicans reject the accusations, instead arguing a need to combat voter fraud.
This is about protecting the sanctity of our vote, said Rep. Stanley Cox, a Sedalia Republican who is sponsoring the measure. It is certainly one of the highest principles that exist in a representative government.
For seven years running, the party has tried to push through the new standards. Each time, the effort has been derailed by either a court ruling or Democratic Gov. Jay Nixons veto. Kansas adopted a voter photo ID law in 2011.
Now, emboldened by new veto-proof supermajorities, Missouri Republicans tout dueling voter ID proposals making their way through both the House and Senate.
Adding fuel to an already contentious debate are two public hearings that Democrats allege were designed to limit testimony from opponents.
Last week, the House Elections Committee scheduled a hearing on a voter ID bill for 6:45 a.m., or 15 minutes before the Capitol is open to the public. After numerous complaints, the start time was pushed back to 8 a.m., when hearings traditionally begin.
On Tuesday, the committee scheduled a hearing on another voter ID bill in the side gallery of the House. That area is rarely used for hearings, especially those likely to generate a substantial amount of public interest, because it lacks seating and isnt set up for witness testimony.
In their zeal to enact voter suppression laws, House Republicans have engaged in a pattern of witness suppression, said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat.
Elections Committee Chairwoman Sue Entlicher, a Bolivar Republican, saw no underhandedness with this at all. There simply werent any other rooms available at the time of the hearing, she said.
In Missouri, voters currently must provide some form of ID before casting a ballot. But thats not limited to items with photos. A utility bill, bank statement or paycheck can suffice.
Democrats point out that under the current system there has never been a reported case in Missouri of the type of fraud prevented by photo ID laws. A national study last year found only 10 alleged cases of in-person voter impersonation in any election in the United States since 2000.
A 2009 study by the secretary of states office estimated that about 230,000 Missourians are registered to vote but lack a government-issued photo ID.
There is no need for this law, said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat and the chairwoman of the Black Caucus. There has been no fraud. It doesnt exist.
Cox conceded Tuesday that he was unaware of instances of voter impersonation in Missouri.