Arguments in a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s voter ID law are being made at the Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City. Hearings before Judge Richard Callahan began Monday morning.
The complaint was brought on behalf of 71-one-year-old Mildred Gutierrez, a Lee’s Summit resident. Gutierrez was required to sign a sworn statement under penalty of perjury because she did not have a valid photo ID in order to vote in the November 2017 election.
Priorities USA, a national progressive organization that promotes voting rights, filed the lawsuit, claiming the law is unconstitutional and creates an undue burden for voters lacking the required identification. The suit contends the sworn statement contains “confusing and threatening provisions that discourage qualified voters from attempting to exercise their right to vote without photo ID.”
Gutierrez has been registered to vote in Missouri for over 40 years, regularly votes in statewide and local, municipal elections, and has previously served as an Election Judge in Jackson County in the Kansas City area.
In July 2016, her driver’s license expired, and, due to her failing vision at the time, was not eligible for renewal. She attempted to vote with other forms of identification in 2017 that had previously been accepted including her utility bill and her voter registration card before being required to sign the sworn statement. She was informed by election officials that she would not be permitted to vote in future elections unless she presented photo ID.
In court Monday, Ms. Gutierrez described waiting in line for an hour and 10 minutes at the Department of Motor Vehicles and having to pay $11 for a Missouri Non-Driver License that she was told would be free by an election judge at her polling place. In cross-examination, Gutierrez acknowledged to Elections Counsel Khristine Heisinger with the Secretary of State’s office that the $11 was reimbursed to her after it became known the Department of Motor Vehicles had erred in charging her.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and the state of Missouri are named as defendants in the case. Ashcroft is a staunch supporter of strict photo voter ID laws and ran his 2016 campaign for office largely on a platform promoting such statutes.
In court, Ms. Gutierrez described the inconvenience of being taken away from her work counseling people as a chaplain in a religious order by taking time out to get a photo ID.
Christine Dragonette, director of Social Ministry at St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis also testified Monday for the plaintiffs. She said that in 2017 and 2018 she had to clear-up a misinterpretation of the law by the St. Louis City Hall Licensing Office, which was denying voter ID’s to eligible voters. “The employee that I spoke with at city hall let me know that they could not provide a free photo ID to someone who was in the system before,” said Dragonette.
She said personnel at the state Department of Revenue were also confused before they verified that people who were in the system identified as having previously possessed a photo ID would also qualify for a free photo ID.
St. Francis Xavier College Church’s Social Ministry Outreach Program provides technical and financial support for obtaining birth certificates and Missouri state ID cards for mostly law income residents in the St. Louis area. It serves up to 3,500 clients every year and spends between $50,000 and $70,000 a year assisting those clients. Under the voter ID law, the state is to provide a way for residents to obtain a birth certificate, which normally costs $15 and is required to obtain a photo ID, for free.
Arguments on both sides of the issue Monday addressed whether a Constitutional Amendment passed by voters in 2016, Amendment 6, authorized the state legislature to pass a law requiring photo ID to vote.
Uzoma N. Nkwonta of the Washington law firm Perkins Coie represented Priorities USA before the court. He said the Constitutional Amendment did not permit the restrictive voter ID law that the Republican majority in the legislature subsequently passed (HB 1631). “It definitely does not state anywhere that the general assembly can require photo ID as the only form of ID approved for voting,” said Nkwonta. Don M. Downing of the Gray, Ritter & Graham law firm in St. Louis also represented the plaintiffs in court.
Lawyer Ryan Bangert of the Missouri Attorney General’s office represented the state. He said the amendment allows for specific voter identification requirements. “It makes clear that the voter ID requirements in HB 1631 are consistent with, and do not impermissively burden the right to vote, because the Constitution now expressly gives the legislature the authority to require voter identification, including photo ID,” said Bangert. He was joined by Heisinger with the Secretary of State’s office and First Assistant Attorney General and Solicitor General John Sauer in defending the law.
Priorities USA Action, the political action committee of Priorities USA, is among the organizations that together have spent roughly $31 million opposing candidates in the Missouri Senate race. Most of that money has been spent on attack ads against Republican nominee Josh Hawley.
Arguments will continue in the lawsuit Tuesday morning.