Voter ID case heard by Supreme Court
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Voter ID case heard by Supreme Court

Date: October 4, 2006
By: Kathryn Buschman
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Supreme Court had an unusual "show and tell" from the bench Wednesday. Retired Supreme Court Judge Charles Blackmar held up his expired drivers license in court asking attorneys if it would be sufficient documentation to vote if the court ruled the new voter id law to be constitutional.

"I don't drive, I have a drivers license, and its got a pretty good mug shot, most people would recognize it as me from this," said Blackmar, who was sitting in for Judge William Price Jr.  "But since I don't drive, I didn't see any reason to renew my drivers license, although this would seem to identify me pretty well-this wouldn't qualify would it? This wouldn't qualify as a proper photo ID."

 The 84-year old would be exempt under the law that would require voters to show a government-issued ID at the polls because he was born before 1941. Residents with a disability or have religious objections are also exempt from the requirement.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan, declared the law unconstitutional last month, saying it could infringe on Missourian's right to vote. The law was signed by the governor in June

The justices focused on the cost associated with obtaining the accepted identification the law would require. The cost of obtaining a birth certificate in Missouri, $15, was a concern to the judges. A birth certificate is one of the documents a resident can show to receive a driver's license or state identification card. 

"This is only 3 percent of Missourians or 4 percent depending on whose numbers you look at that don't already posses [the necessary documentation]," said attorney Thor Hearne, representing the law's sponsor Sen. Delbert Scott.  

Voters without proper identification would still be allowed to vote but would cast a provisional ballot that would be counted after the signature is checked against election records for validity.

But attorney Don Downing said provisional ballots are not available in all elections. "Provisional ballots are not the same as regular ballots," Downing said. "There are six separate requirements that have met before you can count a provisional ballot."

Downing continued to attack the idea of having signatures compared saying local election authorities are not signatures experts.

For the November 2004 election 8,000 provisional ballots were submitted and 3,000 were counted, said attorney Barbara Wood, representing the Secretary of State's office.

In his ruling last month Callahan also said the identification requirement created an additional qualification on voting that is not included in the Constitution. 

But Hearne argued Wednesday that the legislature did not add more qualifications."What they have simply said is this is the means by which somebody has satisfied these qualifications." 

 After the arguments on the voter ID law, the court heard arguments on whether the tobacco tax tax initiative should remain on the ballot.

A lower court judge ruled the measure should be placed on the ballot last month after Secretary of State Robin Carnahan decided the petition fell short of the number of signatures required to be placed on the ballot.

The ballot initiative would increase the state's tobacco tax from 17 cents per pack to 97 cents, and is estimated to generate $351 million annually. The money would fund health care and anti-smoking programs.

In August Carnahan decided the measure fell 274 signatures short of the required 23,527 needed from the Kansas City area. The lower court judge overturned that decision ruling local election officials failed to validate more than 1,000 signatures-giving the measure the required signatures to be placed on the ballot. 

Marc Ellinger, attorney for the Missourians Against Tax Abuse, called the petition process for the ballot  "chaotic." 

"The way this petition was circulated, chaotic procedures under which the current petition was circulated shows really the problem we have in the state of Missouri with initiatives in general,"  Ellinger said. 

Last week three top lawmakers submitted a friend of the court brief in opposition to the tax increase. House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, Rep. Allen Icet and Sen. Chuck Gross joined together to oppose the ballot measure because it  requires the state to provide Medicaid coverage to everyone at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

Opponents argue Medicaid coverage at that poverty level would require the legislature to use other tax revenue-not just revenue generated from the tobacco tax fund.

 "This proposed initiative petition is going to take existing state revenues, lock them up, and prohibit the legislature from being able to spend them according the Constitution,  that's expressly prohibited by the Constitution and as result the amendment should not even get on the ballot, " Ellinger said.

Chuck Hatfield, attorney for the Committee for a Healthy Future who supports the ballot measure, said the opponents are being driven by the tobacco company.  

"We understand that the big tobacco companies don't want to see this on the ballot, we understand there are a lot of things people are willing to say to keep it off the ballot-but they are just not true.

In regard to the ballot measure possibly being unconstitutional Hatfield said,  "We are creating money by taxing cigarettes and we are going to use it for specific programs that people want to see control smoking, particularly among younger people and providing health care."