What documents should voters have to show to make it to the polls? The question continues to spark debate in state legislatures across the country, with new voter ID legislation coming to the forefront in a number of states.
The Missouri legislature is discussing measures that would narrow the acceptable forms of voter ID to non-expired photo identification issued by the state or federal government. The proposed legislation would exclude currently acceptable forms of voter identification like student IDs, out-of-state driver’s licenses, or bank statements and utility bills.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, recently weighed in on the legislation’s potential for disenfranchising voters, saying "requiring photo ID would keep about 200,000 Missourians from voting."
That number caught our attention. We decided to dig into the details of the proposed legislation, and take a closer look at just how many Missouri voters would be affected by photo ID requirements.
Numbers from the Secretary of State
Kendrick said he got his estimate of those who would be kept from voting — "more than 200,000" — from Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. A report from Kander’s office corroborates Kendrick’s statement, showing 220,000 people potentially disenfranchised.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, that number came from comparing the list of registered voters in Missouri to the Department of Revenue’s accounting of those without driver’s licenses (about 150,000 people) and those with expired driver’s licenses (about 70,000).
Those numbers are at best a rough approximation. Marvin Overby, political science professor at MU, said he can think of two factors that would make the Secretary of State’s estimate too high.
"A number of people who don’t have driver’s licenses do have photo identification, it’s just in a non-driver’s license form," Overby said. "And those in prison or on parole or probation can’t vote, regardless of their ID status."
Numbers from the proposed legislation
An even higher estimate of Missourians without non-expired photo identification — almost 400,000 people — actually is cited in the proposed legislation’s fiscal note.
The note sets aside up to $10.7 million to cover costs associated with providing new photo IDs. That’s because unless the House Budget and Senate Appropriations committees allocate the necessary funding to provide photo ID at no charge for those currently without, the state would be barred from implementing the new requirements.
Kendrick’s source, Secretary of State Jason Kander’s report, doesn’t take this information into account. Kander’s report is two years old and refers to an older bill that did not require the state to bear the cost of providing supporting documentation necessary for photo ID — theoretically making the requirement of photo ID a poll tax.
But the current proposed legislation does hold the state responsible for providing birth certificates or other necessary documents free of charge for photo ID. In theory, this would reduce the chances that any new ID requirements might disenfranchise voters currently lacking photo identification.
The cost of photo ID
The $10.7 million suggested in the proposed legislation’s fiscal note would cover other costs as well as providing supporting documentation for IDs, like manufacturing and postage for new photo IDs.
It also includes funding for an updated DMV website; new hires in the Department of Revenue, the Department of Health and Senior Service, and the Bureau of Vital records; and pre-election TV, radio, and print ads to let voters know of the change in ID requirements.
But it doesn’t mention any plans for in-person help for Missouri residents unfamiliar with navigating a bureaucracy — a lack of familiarity that could easily be a symptom of not needing to procure a photo ID in the past.
And for some, even a photo ID supplied for no charge isn’t free.
Missouri League of Women Voters President Elaine Blodgett said the costs associated with the new IDs go beyond creating a new document. "There’s an undue burden on women, who might have to get their birth certificates and marriage certificates and divorce certificates in order to get photo ID, if they’ve changed their names," she said. "Also, simply getting to all the offices needed can be nearly impossible for some of our disabled or elderly voters."
Kendrick told Politifact Missouri that older adults may have issues tracking down birth certificates because states don’t necessarily have the same standards for maintaining birth records. He also added a time qualifier to his earlier statement and said "if voter photo ID was in place right now, over 200,000 registered MO voters would not be able to vote."
In addition, even with the plan outlined in the bill’s fiscal note, some voters may still remain unaware of the new requirements. If voters came to the polls without the correct ID, they could cast provisional ballots; but in the 2012 presidential election, fewer than 3 in 10 provisional ballots were counted because many voters did not return to verify their address or identity after casting a provisional ballot.
While requiring a photo ID could be expensive and might affect or inconvenience between 220,000 and 400,000 Missourians, it wouldn’t necessarily keep them from voting.
Unlike past bills, the legislation currently proposed does address the cost of supplying supporting documentation necessary for obtaining photo ID, making it difficult to say it would financially "keep people from voting."
No one knows exactly how many Missourians would be affected by new photo ID requirements — but there is consensus that the number who would need new photo IDs is in the hundreds of thousands. We rate Kendrick’s statement Half True.