Missouri voters without photo ID won’t have to sign affidavit to vote, judge says

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

Missouri election authorities cannot require voters without a photo ID to sign a statement that a Cole County judge called “contradictory and misleading,” the judge ruled Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Cole County Judge Richard Callahan tossed part of the state’s voter ID law that voters allowed to go into effect in 2016. But in statements after that ruling, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft claimed the court ruling did not apply to local election authorities who administer elections.

“My understanding is his order actually doesn’t stop the statement from having to be signed when you go to vote because the secretary of state’s office, as we told the judge, is not the one that requires that,” Ashcroft said in an interview with a Columbia radio station earlier this month. “That’s done by the local election authorities.”

Callahan’s Tuesday ruling — issued after plaintiffs requested the order be clarified — said the order does apply to local election authorities.

“Today, a mere two weeks from the November 2018 mid-term election, Senior Judge Richard Callahan has eviscerated Missouri’s photo ID law as crafted by the state legislature,” Ashcroft said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “Somehow, while holding the law constitutional, Judge Callahan has prohibited the enforcement of the law for the upcoming election.”

Symone Sanders, a spokeswoman for Priorities USA, which filed the lawsuit this summer on behalf of a Jackson County woman, praised the ruling in a statement.

“Again, this is an important victory for voting rights that will ensure that future elections in Missouri are open and accessible to every eligible voter,” Sanders said.

Attorneys met with Callanhan on Monday to clarify details of the ruling.

The law requires that voters either show a photo ID before voting or show another form of ID, like a bank statement or utility bill. If they show another form of ID, the law had said they must sign a statement acknowledging they don’t have an approved form of voter ID and realize it’s required to vote and that they know the state will help them obtain the required ID. Now, voters without a photo ID won’t have to sign the statement.

Voters who have no form of ID can cast provisional ballots that will only count if they return to the polls and show identification, or if election workers can match the signatures on their ballots to the ones in their voter files.

Ashcroft claimed the voter ID law had “been effective without disenfranchising a single voter.”

Priorities USA, a Democratic-aligned voting rights group, argued the photo ID provision creates an undue burden for voters who don’t have an ID and that “confusing and threatening provisions” of the affidavit they were supposed to sign discourage voters from attempting to vote without a photo ID.

Assistant House Minority Leader Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, criticized Ashcroft in a statement after the ruling for claiming the affidavit was still required.

“For two weeks, Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft continued to provide false information to Missouri voters about voter identification requirements in violation of a court order forbidding him from doing so,” Mitten said. “Today, the judge in the case again told Ashcroft to stop deceiving Missouri voters.”

Sometime Tuesday, Ashcroft’s office altered the language on its website to eliminate the affidavit in accordance with the ruling and eliminate language that implied a photo ID was necessary to vote.

In an email, Ashcroft’s spokeswoman Maura Browning said the office’s priority Tuesday morning had been to send guidance to local election authorities.

“We were simultaneously working on updating the two separate websites and reviewing and canceling the office’s TV, radio and social media promotion of the law,” Browning said.

Ashcroft said he would continue to work with lawmakers to “implement their will and uphold my duty to hold fair and secure elections.”