The story of voter ID laws and how quickly they’ve spread across the United States can be told through one state’s journey. A decade ago, Missouri was one of the first states to require voters to present an ID to vote. But things quickly backfired for voter ID proponents: The state Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, and it was wiped from the books. A decade later, Missouri Republicans now have a chance to reinstate a voter ID law. The Republican-controlled legislature voted to put the question in the form of a constitutional amendment to voters this November, where proponents expect it to pass and a new law to go on the books as a result. If it plays out as expected, Missouri will join a totally different voter ID landscape than when it first waded into the issue a decade ago. Voter ID laws have progressed so much over the last decade that if Missouri was once a leader in the voter ID debate, today its reentry will be barely a footnote.
This is the first presidential election in which voters in two-thirds of states will be required to show some form of identification to vote. In 2012, there were 29 states with voter ID laws, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures; in 2016, there will be 33. At least nine states will have strict voter ID laws in place, which essentially means it’s harder to vote if you don’t have a photo ID.
The stricter voter ID laws, of course, are more controversial and have been challenged in court, with mixed results.
But despite those court challenges and vociferous opposition from liberal thought leaders and civil rights groups, requiring voters to present an ID at the ballot box seems to be on its way to becoming a permanent part of America’s electoral landscape. Public opinion, court cases and state laws have all reinforced, to one degree or another, the notion that it’s okay to make voter ID a requirement.