Government & Politics

Missouri’s voter ID law faces legal challenge from national progressive group

A national progressive organization filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Missouri’s voter ID law on behalf of a 70-year-old Jackson County woman.

The suit was filed in Cole County by Priorities USA, a Democratic-aligned group that advocates for voting rights and works to identify “opportunities for progressives to stand up to the Republican agenda,” according to its website.

Missouri voters in 2016 approved the voter ID requirement as an amendment to the state's Constitution by a 26-point margin. But attorneys for Priorities USA argue that it creates undue burdens for voters who lack the required photo identification.

“For voters who are unable to navigate these new and unnecessary procedural hurdles, the path to casting an effective ballot is fraught with uncertainty and unwarranted threats of criminal penalties,” the lawsuit states.

Under the law, people without photo ID may still cast ballots if they sign a sworn statement attesting that they do not possess the required documents.

The lawsuit argues that the required statements, which are signed under penalty of perjury, contain “confusing and threatening provisions that discourage qualified voters from attempting to exercise their right to vote without Photo ID.”

The other named plaintiff in the lawsuit is Mildred Gutierrez, a 70-year-old resident of Lee’s Summit who has been registered to vote for more than 40 years and has previously served as an election judge in Jackson County, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that Gutierrez’s driver’s license expired in July 2016 and “due to her failing vision at the time, was not eligible for renewal.”

When she went to the polls last November to vote in a Missouri state Senate special election, she was required to sign the sworn statement and “was also informed by election officials that she would not be permitted to vote in future elections unless she presented Photo ID,” according to the suit.

The suit argues that requiring Gutierrez to obtain a non-driver’s license ID from the state creates an extra and unfair burden for her to exercise her right to vote.

The lawsuit was filed roughly five months before Missouri voters will cast ballots in a race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

The man who will have to defend the state’s law is one of the candidates in that race, Attorney General Josh Hawley, the top GOP recruit to take on Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

“We have received the complaint and we intend to fully and fairly defend Missouri law,” Hawley’s official spokeswoman Mary Compton said in an email.

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is named as a defendant in the case in his official capacity. His spokeswoman Maura Browning said the office does not comment on ongoing lawsuits.

Ashcroft's predecessor, Jason Kander, a Democrat who was an outspoken opponent of the law, said on Twitter that he "told Missouri Republicans if they continue to suppress voters, that we’ll see them in court."

Priorities USA Action, the group’s political action committee, has spent more than $430,000 on the 2018 U.S. Senate race — mostly for attack ads against Hawley — according to campaign finance data analyzed by ProPublica.

Symone Sanders, the spokeswoman for Priorities USA, said the upcoming Senate race did not factor into the decision to file the lawsuit.

“We have been on the forefront of filing suits like this across the country because we believe there shouldn’t be impediments to the ballot box for anyone at any time — whether it’s an election year or not,” Sanders said.

The group's legal team includes Marc Elias, a prominent election attorney who has worked for McCaskill in the past and served as general counsel for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.