Missouri voters will soon be asked to vote on how they vote. Thursday evening, the Missouri State House voted to send a referendum to the ballot that will ask citizens to amend the state constitution to require voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot. That measure is the second half of a two-part maneuver: Legislators previously passed a bill that governs how the requirement would be implemented, but thanks to a state supreme court decision ruling against a similar law in 2006, the Show Me State has to amend its constitution in order to create the requirement. Missouri Democrats, outnumbered in both houses of the General Assembly, blasted the law but were powerless to stop it. Nor can Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, veto the ballot referendum—though he does get to decide when the vote will be held.
“The sad part of this is that people in this body think it’s a joke,” state Representative Brandon Ellington said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They think that when we push these buttons in front of us — the red and green buttons—it has no implications. Then we hear people say, ‘Well, you know, everybody has an ID, everybody has a bank account.’ Well, that’s ignorance, because that shows the fact that you don’t understand the difference between a privilege and a right. It’s a privilege to have an ID.”
The debate in Missouri has been unusually long-running—Republicans have been trying to create a voter-ID law for a decade now—but it mirrors similar battles around the nation, especially in states like Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Advocates argue that the sanctity of the vote must be protected, but critics note that there’s next to no evidence of actual vote fraud and that studies show that voter-ID laws suppress minority votes. (In Missouri, voters already have to show some ID, but the list of accepted documents is long, and includes things like utility bills and state university student IDs.) They say that the laws are an attempt to drive down turnout among minority voters who overwhelmingly support Democrats. That argument is bolstered by some voter-ID advocates who keep slipping up and stating publicly that such laws will help Republicans and conservatives win.