Arguments in a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s photo voter ID law were heard for a third day Wednesday at the Cole County Court House in Jefferson City.
The court case is so involved that no fewer than four attorneys representing each side have taken turns questioning witnesses.
Priorities USA, a national progressive organization that promotes voting rights, and 71-one-year-old Mildred Gutierrez, a Lee’s Summit resident are suing Missouri and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft over the statute.
University of Wisconsin Political Scientist Kenneth Mayer offered expert testimony for Priorities USA Tuesday. Having done extensive analysis on the impact of voter ID laws, Mayer admitted that none of his research took place in Missouri when quizzed by lawyers from the secretary of state and attorney general offices
Wednesday, University of Missouri Political Economist Jeffrey Milyo was brought in to give testimony favorable to the law which went into effect in 2017. Almost immediately, Washington D.C. Attorney John Geise, who represents Priorities USA, made an objection that he requested to be on record, asserting Milyo wasn’t qualified to offer expert opinions under Missouri law. Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan acknowledged the objection but let Milyo continue his testimony.
Tuesday, Mayer had dismissed a rating of voter ID laws compiled by the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) as incomplete. The bipartisan non-governmental group classifies voting laws in all 50 states in five categories ranging from “Strict Photo ID” to “No document required to vote.” Mayer said the NCSL’s system needs to have a broader set of categories to assess the variations in laws across states, but suggested Missouri’s statute is one of the more restrictive ones. Milyo thinks the state’s voter ID law is much less rigid. “I would characterize it as a Strict Non-Photo…definitely, not Strict Photo ID,” said Milyo.
Mayer on Tuesday stated that 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. Milyo countered on Wednesday that much more data needs to be collected before any determination about turnout can be made. “We need much more research to try to better understand what are the effects on turnout of voter ID laws,” Milyo said.
Lawyer Ryan Bangert of the Missouri Attorney General’s office asked Milyo a series of questions in which it was established that the new Missouri voter ID law imposes one additional restriction but also offers an additional option to those wanting to vote.
Before the current law took effect, an individual presenting a photo ID or non-photo identification such as a utility bill or bank statement could cast a regular ballot. The restriction in the new statute requires those presenting a non-photo ID to sign a sworn statement acknowledging several things before voting. The new option that didn’t exist under the old law gives registered voters who bring no ID to the polling place the ability to cast a provisional ballot. That vote counts in the election if the person returns later and presents a photo ID or if his or her signature matches the signature in the voter registry.
Milyo said it’s unclear whether the new law would increase or decrease voter turnout because the benefit of the new option to cast a provisional ballot offsets the new requirement for some voters to sign a sworn statement.
He said there are a number of reasons why Voter ID laws could have driven the higher turnout that has occurred in some elections. “Voter ID laws make the election more salient, front and center in people’s minds,” Milyo said. “(The laws could) make elections and politics more exciting, or it’s in the news more, and more people are hearing about and talking about it. There’s more of a social benefit from participating.”
Milyo said a number of studies in which participants are informed about voter ID laws and then asked about their voting intentions suggest that the statutes would increase turnout.
He pointed to a study that showed an increase in Democratic turnout after information about voter ID laws was sent out. “Information which highlighted that the strict photo voter ID law in Virginia might make it difficult for typical Democratic constituencies to vote actually had a significant positive effect on voter turnout,” Milyo said.
Attorneys for plaintiff Priorities USA also quizzed Brandon Alexander, a Republican who co-chairs the Elections Division in the Secretary of State’s office, over issues in rolling out the new voter ID law. Among them were ads and information portals on local government websites that indicated a photo ID would be required but did not specify the other options available.
In addition, plaintiff’s attorneys for Priorities USA noted that Secretary of State Ashcroft had asked for a budget of $4.2 million to advertise the new law, but was only allocated $1.5 million. Alexander said some of the money sought by the office dated back to the previous administration under Democratic Secretary Jason Kander.
The plaintiffs also pointed out that although the state promised to pay expenses for transplanted voters to get underlying records from out of state to comply with the new law, only 29 people have received such assistance since June of 2017.
The three days of witness testimony ended Wednesday afternoon. Final arguments in the lengthy voter ID lawsuit will be made by both sides Monday afternoon.