Missouri Voters: Photo ID is not required, regardless of your vote in 2016

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 4:42 PM CST
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The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday permanently blocked a central portion of a 2016 voter identification law that it said had required a "misleading" and "contradictory" sworn statement from people lacking a photo ID.

The 5-2 ruling upholds a decision by a lower court judge, who had blocked the affidavit requirement from being used in the 2018 general election. It had remained on hold since then.

Missouri is one of several states where Republican-led legislatures have passed voter photo ID laws touted as a means of preventing election fraud. In Missouri's case, the state law was accompanied by a constitutional amendment, approved by 63% of voters in November 2016, that authorized the implementation of a photo ID law.

Voter photo ID laws have been opposed by Democrats, who contend they can disenfranchise poor, elderly, disabled and minority voters who are less likely to have photo IDs.

Missouri's law allowed voters lacking a valid government-issued photo identification to cast a regular ballot if they presented another form of ID — such as utility bill, bank statement or paycheck containing their name and address — and signed a sworn statement affirming their identity. The sworn statement also included a section acknowledging that they didn't have "a form of personal identification approved for voting" but were aware they could get a free ID card from the state.

The law said voters lacking a photo ID also could cast a provisional ballot, which would count if they later returned with a photo ID or their signatures matched the ones on file with election authorities.

The Supreme Court said the sworn statement was inaccurate because it required people to say they didn't possess a valid form of identification for voting while simultaneously requiring them to show a non-photo identification that would allow them to vote.

"Although the State has an interest in combating voter fraud, requiring individuals ... to sign a contradictory, misleading affidavit is not a reasonable means to accomplish that goal," Judge Mary Russell wrote in the majority opinion.

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's office said in a statement Tuesday that the court ruling "eviscerated the state's voter ID law."

"The people of Missouri made it clear in November of 2016 that it is reasonable to require a photo ID to vote," Ashcroft said.

Priorities USA, a Washington-based liberal advocacy group, challenged the law on behalf of some Missouri voters.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Brent Powell wrote that instead of striking down the entire affidavit requirement, the court could have struck only the contradictory wording while leaving in place a requirement that voters without a valid photo ID swear to their identity and acknowledge their eligibility for a free photo ID.

Alternatively, Powell said the court could have struck any option to cast a regular ballot by showing a non-photo ID and instead left the only recourse as casting a provisional ballot.

The majority opinion "eliminates the intended distinction between voter identification options," Powell wrote in a dissent that was joined by Judge Zel Fischer, "and prevents the legislation from having any effect on voting identification procedures."

The Supreme Court also upheld the lower court's decision to block the secretary of state's office from disseminating any materials indicating that a photo ID is required to vote.

Local county clerks say they are ready for the legal battle to be over, but say we are likely far from that.

"This is just one more battle in a long term trench war between the two parties, and so basically, I think the next step is the legislature will go back and try to address what shortcomings the court found, they'll adopt new legislation which will probably be litigated again, and the war will continue," said Webster County Clerk Stan Whitehurst. "We'd like just a clear set of rules that we can abide by and just be able to do our jobs, but it may take a while before we get there."