A second day of arguments in a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s photo voter ID law took place Tuesday at the Cole County Court House in Jefferson City.
The parties bringing the litigation are Priorities USA, a national progressive organization that promotes voting rights, and 71-one-year-old Mildred Gutierrez, a Lee’s Summit resident. Gutierrez was allowed to vote in the November 2017 election only after signing a sworn statement under penalty of perjury because she did not have a valid photo ID.
University of Wisconsin Political Scientist Kenneth Mayer offered expert testimony for Priorities USA. He called the sworn statement, also known as an affidavit, that Gutierrez had to sign in order to cast a ballot completely incomprehensible.
“There is no possible way that this is a readable, comprehensible document that accurately informs people of what they’re actually signing,” said Mayor. He called the statement technical and contradictory, noting that someone signing the document is simultaneously swearing that they don’t have a form of ID, and that they understand that they have to have a form of ID in order to vote, all under the threat of perjury and criminal prosecution.
Under Missouri’s law passed in 2016 by the Republican-led state legislature, voters can cast a normal ballot without a valid photo ID if they sign the statement and present another form of acceptable identification such as a voter registration card, utility bill or bank statement. They are then informed that they are not be permitted to vote in future elections unless they present a photo ID.
In addition, voters are given a final option which is to cast a provisional ballot. That vote would count in an election if the person came back to the polling place later and presented a photo ID, or if the person’s signature matched his or her signature in the voting registry.
Also testifying for Priorities USA Tuesday was St. Louis resident William David King, a longtime voter at the same polling place who was turned away when he presented a voter registration card. King returned later in the day with his driver’s license at which point he was permitted to cast a ballot. But voting officials had originally given him wrong information and failed to let him sign a sworn statement which would allow him to vote.
Political Scientist Mayer was asked by plaintiff’s attorney Elizabeth Frost about other instances of misinformation about the voter ID law on the local level. He gave examples of glaring discrepancies in three counties.
He said Boone County was inconsistent with other counties because it listed a wide range of ID’s, including social security cards, as acceptable identification as long as the statement is signed. Mayer pointed to information on the Greene County Clerk’s website as being incomplete and inaccurate. He said it incorrectly states that provisional ballots are only available to those who possess an ID but fail to bring it with them. The law actually permits people who don’t possess any ID at the time to provisionally vote.
Mayer’s biggest criticism of local misinformation and confusion was directed at the Jefferson County election website which, among other things, wrongly asserted that out of state driver’s licenses were acceptable forms of ID. “I frankly find this flabbergasting that a year after the requirement goes into effect the information is just so unambiguously incorrect,” said Mayer.
The law, which went into effect in 2017, requires voters with out of state driver’s licenses to sign the sworn statement before casting a ballot. He also mentioned a couple of problems with language on the Jefferson County website, including one sentence that says voters simply need a “photo” instead of a “photo ID”. In addition, Mayer found it egregious that the website refers voters to “a section of revised Missouri statutes”, saying it’s unreasonable to expect voters navigate through such language.
Attorneys for Priorities USA inquired with Mayer about common claims of voter ID laws critics over the past decade; that the statutes suppress voter turnout and are aimed at voter fraud that is almost nonexistent.
Mayer said extensive research in the numerous states that have enacted voter ID laws since 2006 shows the statutes suppress turnout and disproportionally impact poor people, minorities and the elderly. “Vulnerable populations are less likely to possess the most common forms of ID and are in less of a position to completely understand and be able to comply with what amount to complicated administrative requirements,” Mayer said.
The Secretary of State’s office under Democrat Jason Kander in 2014 produced a report analyzing a bill from the Republican majority in the legislature that sought to limit acceptable voter identification to a Missouri driver’s license, non-driver’s license, or other state or federal government-issued photo ID.
The report concluded that approximately 220,000 registered voters could be disenfranchised with the passage the bill. The legislation that year was approved in the House but died in the Senate.
The report also stated that there had not been a single case of voter impersonation fraud reported to the Secretary of State’s office since 2002 when a less restrictive voter identification requirements went into effect.
Mayer added that the only form of voter fraud photo ID laws prevent is voter impersonation. He said the requirements are often inaccurately presented a means to stave off all forms illegal voting. “Someone will point to an issue with absentee ballots or election administrators, claims of double voting. None of these forms of voting are prevented by voter ID laws,” said Mayer.
The defense team of attorneys from the offices of the attorney general and the secretary of state had not started to make their arguments in support of Missouri’s voter ID law by Tuesday afternoon. In their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the defense team points out that the statute imposes reasonable ID requirements with multiple alternatives that ensure every voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot.
Arguments before Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan are expected to conclude sometime Wednesday.