- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to tighten voter ID requirements passed the Legislature on Thursday, setting up a months-long public relations campaign before the measure appears on the ballot in November.

The proposed amendment continues a decade-long Republican effort to require photo identification to vote in Missouri, a condition 17 other states have already imposed.

If voters approve the amendment, photo ID requirements the Legislature passed earlier this session could go into place for elections after June 2017. Under that proposal, people without photo identification could still cast a ballot after signing a statement saying, under penalty of perjury, they don’t have the required identification and can show some other form of identifying document, such as a utility bill or paycheck.

That photo ID legislation is still awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who vetoed such a requirement in 2011. In a press conference last week he said he remains skeptical of the measure, but it passed both chambers earlier this year with enough votes to overcome a veto.

The House approved the constitutional amendment 110-39, one day after the Senate passed it on a 24-8 party-line vote.

Because the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a photo ID requirement in 2006, lawmakers asked voters to change the Constitution to give the Legislature the power to institute the requirement.

Democrats say requiring a photo ID to vote would discourage thousands of people from voting, especially minorities, seniors and young people - groups that typically support Democratic candidates. But Republicans point out that their proposal would allow people to get free identification, and the measure still allows people without an ID to cast a ballot.

“There is no way I would be supporting this if it disenfranchised one voter. There is no way I would be supporting this if disenfranchised people who look like me,” said Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican from Ballwin who is black.

But changing the Constitution could allow lawmakers to pass more restrictive measures in the future, said Rep. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat.

“We’re opening a Pandora’s box,” she said.

Richard Reuben, a law professor and voting rights expert at the University of Missouri, predicted the amendment would be approved.

“The simple argument, ‘Well, people should have an ID,’ is about all people can handle,” Reuben said. “And they’ll say, ‘Well, of course we should.’

“Nobody’s going to read the details. Nobody’s going to think about the implications. It will take a long and concerted effort to raise public awareness of the problems of it,” he said.

Voters have recently approved photo ID requirements in two states - Mississippi and Oklahoma - and rejected them in one state, Minnesota, said Wendy Underhill, the program director for elections at the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republican Sen. Will Kraus, the Lee’s Summit Republican who handled the photo ID proposals in the Senate, said he will advocate for the constitutional amendment while he travels the state on his campaign for Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, opponents are also making preparations. The amendment will be a top priority for Progress Missouri, communications director Kevin Garner said.

In a statement, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Executive Director Jeffery Mittman said the group will “do everything we can to ensure that eligible voters have their voices heard at the polls.”

“A lot of people may think that we’re sleeping, but we have awakened,” Kathy Walker Steele, the central regional director of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority, said during an April rally in the Capitol. “We are astute, educated and ready to do what’s necessary.”

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Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report

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