Court strikes down proposed Missouri voter ID amendment

A Cole County judge on Thursday struck down a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would have required voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce ruled that the summary that would have appeared on the ballot was “insufficient and unfair” and pointed to two reasons for her ruling.

First, the ballot summary includes the phrase “Voter Protection Act,” even though the phrase never actually appears in the constitutional amendment.

Second, the summary stated that the amendment would allow the General Assembly to establish an early voting period, when in fact the amendment would “restrict the time period during which advance voting may occur,” Joyce said.

“Because significant changes are required here and policy choices need to be made as to how to reallocate the words in a revised summary statement, the court chooses to vacate the summary statement and to provide the General Assembly an opportunity to revise it,” Joyce’s ruling said.

The ballot title approved by the legislature asks voters, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to adopt the Voter Protection Act and allow the General Assembly to provide by general law for advance voting prior to election day, voter photo identification requirements, and voter requirements based on whether one appears to vote in person or by absentee ballot?”

Tony Rothert, legal director of ACLU of Eastern Missouri, praised the ruling.

“We did believe the summary statement as written was misleading to voters and are pleased the judge agreed,” said Rothert, whose organization was among those who filed the lawsuit challenging the ballot summary.

The state had argued that the judge could simply rewrite the summary and it could still appear on the ballot later this year. But Rothert said that while the judge has the authority to “do some surgical rewriting, this would have taken a wrecking ball.”

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan said the judge’s ruling is a “victory for voters’ rights.”

The proposed amendment had the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Missouri voters, she said.

“The Missouri Constitution protects the fundamental right of eligible voters to have their voices heard. It defies common sense to weaken those rights,” Carnahan said.

A new voter ID constitutional amendment was introduced Wednesday by House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, a Willard Republican. The new proposed ballot summary language does not include “Voter Protection Act” or any reference to early voting.

The original sponsor of the amendment that was struck down, Sen. Bill Stouffer, a Napton Republican, said he wasn’t surprised by the judge’s ruling. He suspected changes made last year to the proposed amendment in the House, specifically adding the phrase “Voter Protection Act,” would be a problem.

On Thursday, Stouffer attempted to suspend Senate rules to reintroduce the amendment in that chamber. But facing Democratic objections, Stouffer said he would instead allow the House version to work through the process first.

“Our goal is to pass that amendment once again,”" he said.

Both Stouffer and Schoeller are seeking the Republican nomination for secretary of state.

In 2006, Republican lawmakers passed a voter ID bill that was later struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court. The court said the law amounted to a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

In response to the court’s ruling, lawmakers passed a proposed constitutional amendment allowing a photo ID requirement to vote. They also passed a companion bill that laid out the guidelines for implementing a photo ID law, should voters approve it.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the implementation bill.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office had no comment about a possible appeal.