RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A new law takes affect in Missouri today that requires residents to show a state-issued photo ID before they may vote. A federal judge in Georgia threw out a similar law, while a judge in Indiana upheld one. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.
FRANK MORRIS reporting:
Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton doesn't carry a driver's license. So earlier this month he had someone at his rural hometown license bureau to pick up a free state photo ID. Of course the clerk knew Skelton - he's represented the district for 29 years. But the congressman left empty-handed.
Congressman IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri): Well, it's silly. Despite the fact that I have a valid congressional identification card, the Department of Revenue said, no, you need either a birth certificate or a passport - and of course, I had neither one of them at that time.
MORRIS: Skelton will be back with his passport, but others face much higher barriers.
Ms. MARIA FRENCHER (Registers Voters): Hi, ladies. Are y'all registered to vote.
MORRIS: Maria Frencher is set up behind a folding table at a free health clinic in Kansas City's urban core. The slender, 44-year-old grandmother registers voters and warns them about the new ID requirements, though she doesn't expect to be able to meet them herself.
After being abandoned by her parents as a child, she lacks the information she needs to get a copy of her Michigan birth certificate. So though she's lived half her life in Missouri, is registered to vote here, has a Social Security card and a Kansas license, she can't get the photo ID required to cast a ballot.
Ms. FRENCHER: It's painful. I'm getting my rights taken away because of something that I have no control over.
MORRIS: Frencher isn't alone. State election officials figure that well over 200,000 registered voters have no picture ID. Denise Lieberman, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, says the new law slaps an unfunded mandate on local governments, and for citizens who'll have to pay for a replacement birth certificate amounts to a modern-day poll tax.
Ms. DENISE LIEBERMAN (Lawyer, The Advancement Project): This is about the ability of all citizens of the state of Missouri who are eligible, to be able to cast a vote, and to be able to do so without undue improper barriers to being able to access the right of franchise.
State Senator DELBERT SCOTT (Republican, Missouri): This law disenfranchises no one. That's just an excuse to keep from having clean elections.
MORRIS: Missouri State Senator Delbert Scott, a Republican who sponsored the Voter ID bill, says fraud allegations in the 2000 elections led him to propose it. He notes that the measure approved by a nearly party-line vote, allows for citizens turned away for a lack of an ID in November to cast provisional ballots. What's more, state officials say at least 19 out of 20 registered voters already have a driver's license and the rest can get a free state photo ID with proper documentation.
State Senator SCOTT: You've got to have a photo ID when you get on an airplane, when you cash a check, when you rent a video. And Missourians understand it's a simple common sense measure to improve our elections.
MORRIS: But since Missouri began requiring basic identification - a utility bill, for instance - at the polls five years ago, state elections officials report no allegations of voter fraud.
Mr. DON DOWNING (Attorney): Say it's clearly a solution in search of a problem.
MORRIS: Don Downing, a lawyer suing the state over the voter ID law, suggested maybe part of a strategy to keep some traditionally Democratic constituents away from the polls. Republicans strongly reject that notion. But it's unclear what affect, if any, Missouri's new law will have on Election Day. While a state lawsuit and a federal one likely to come move forward, activists here are working overtime to get their constituents ready to be carded at the ballot box.
For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.
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