MO Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Portion of State Voter ID Law

[Image via KBIA]

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a key portion of the state’s voter ID law is unconstitutional, eliminating an affidavit requirement for some voters it called “confusing” and “threatening.” The Kansas City Star has more:

The Missouri Supreme Court handed down a 5-2 ruling Tuesday gutting the state’s photo voter ID law.

Voters can once again bring non-photo identification — like a voter ID card, a college ID or a utility bill — to the polls without having to sign an affidavit stating they don’t have “a form of personal identification approved for voting.”

The ruling returns Missouri to the status quo prior to 2016. That year, the Republican-led legislature passed a law that set up a three-option scheme for voting: vote with an approved photo ID like a state-issued driver’s license, vote with a non-photo ID and sign the affidavit under the penalty of perjury, or cast a provisional ballot.

Implementing the law was contingent upon voter approval. In 2016, 63 percent of Missourians supported the measure.

At issue in the case was the affidavit required from voters who lack photo ID:

A Washington, D.C.,-based voting rights organization, Priorities USA., sued in Cole County Circuit Court leading up to the midterm elections, in June of 2018.

It sued on behalf of a Jackson County woman, Mildred Gutierrez, who found the affidavit “confusing” and “threatening.”

Gutierrez signed the affidavit in 2017 even though she had brought her birth certificate, voter ID card and Social Security card to vote. She testified that the affidavit led her to believe she needed photo identification to vote in future elections, resulting in her spending more than an hour waiting in line to receive a state-issued non-driver’s license solely to use as voting identification.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which found the affidavit’s language to be unconstitutional.

“Although the State has an interest in combating voter fraud, requiring individuals voting under option two to sign a contradictory, misleading affidavit is not a reasonable means to accomplish that goal,” Judge Mary Russell wrote in the court’s affirmative opinion.

A minority of the court argued that the majority’s approach fundamentally changes the law – and ID supporters like the Secretary of State agree:

The dissenting opinion, written by Judge Brent Powell and joined by Judge Zel Fischer, noted that if the court found the affidavit misleading, it should have completely eliminated the ability of Missourians to vote with non-photo ID or struck out portions of the affidavit that the court found to be misleading.

“The principal opinion’s complete removal of the affidavit requirement from non-photo identification voting eliminates the intended distinction between voter identification options and prevents the legislation from having any effect on voting identification procedures,” Powell wrote.

Following the ruling, the Secretary of State’s Office said the ruling “eviscerated” the state’s law.

“The people of Missouri made it clear in November of 2016 that it is reasonable to require a photo ID to vote,” Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said in a statement. “That voter ID law strengthened protections at the ballot box and, just as importantly, expanded access to the ballot ensuring registered voters would no longer be turned away on Election Day.”

The judges also upheld an order blocking the state from advertising the voter ID requirements:

The Supreme Court also ruled that the lower court was correct in enjoining Ashcroft’s office from disseminating ads about the new law, saying it incorrectly implied that voting in the state required photo identification.

Missouri’s fight over voter ID has been going on for years, including statewide votes and numerous trips to court. I’ll be curious to see how lawmakers and the Secretary of State respond – don’t be surprised if there’s an effort to “cure” the affidavit language in response to this opinion. If so, don’t be surprised if that new provision ends up the subject of still more litigation in the Show Me State. Stay tuned …

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