A Missouri judge has left the state’s 2016 voter ID law in place after a court challenge but has stripped several of its major provisions. Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan summed up his decision on Missouri photo IDs by saying,  “Unlike an American Express Card, you may leave home without it, at least on election day.”

A group led by the left-leaning voting rights organization Priorities USA sued to have the statute thrown out.  And although Callahan declined to overturn the law, he did side with key arguments in the lawsuit.

The ruling does away with the requirement that those who don’t present a photo ID at the polls must sign an affidavit.  It also forbids the state from advertising or distributing information that photo ID’s are required to vote.  It further bars publicizing materials that tell voters they’ll be asked to show photo ID without stipulating the other forms of ID that can be used.

Missouri’s Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who campaigned for office on the photo voter ID law, has vowed to appeal the ruling.

In his decision, Callahan said print messages issued by the state clearly lead voters to believe they must present a photo ID to vote when the state conceded no such requirement exists.  He noted several local election officials also thought there was such a requirement, based on their websites and training materials.

Callahan said the affidavit, on its face, is contradictory and misleading.

The document says the voter acknowledges that he or she doesn’t possess a photo ID and states that he or she is required to present approved photo ID in order to vote.  It also specifies that the person signing the document does so under penalty of perjury.

Callahan called the affidavit an “outright misstatement of law.”  He said the requirement for a voter to sign the document is a violation of a citizen’s right to vote that’s guaranteed under the Missouri Constitution.

The decision comes less than four weeks before November’s election, which includes a closely-watched race between Missouri’s Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger Josh Hawley, which could play a pivotal role in determining which party controls the upper chamber of Congress.

The exhaustive days-long court case featured four attorneys on both sides who questioned witnesses.

Joining Priorities USA along in the lawsuit were St. Louis area-based racial justice organization West County Community Action Network, 71-year-old Lee’s Summit resident Mildred Gutierrez and 31-year-old transgender St. Louis resident Mx. Jayden Patrick.  Judge Callahan determined West County Community Action Network did not have legal footing to bring the action but left the other plaintiffs in place.

Both Gutierrez and Patrick said the law had threatened to disenfranchise them from voting and imposed an undue burden on them.   Judge Callahan said Ms. Gutierrrez credibly testified to her experience in obtaining a non-drivers license after being mistakenly told by a poll worker that she would not be allowed to vote in the future without one.

Callahan noted evidence in the case established that 95% of likely voters already possess photo identification.  He said the focus of the lawsuit was whether the law infringes on the right to cast a ballot of the 5% of voters who don’t have photo ID.

The judge credited the plaintiffs’ expert witness, University of Wisconsin Political Scientist Kenneth Mayer, for being credible.  Mayer testified that a strict government photo identification would place a burden on individuals who do not have such a document and would have a negative impact on voter turnout as a result.  He said poor people, minorities and the elderly would be disproportionately affected.

The Missouri Supreme Court tossed a photo voter ID law passed by the Legislature in 2006 because it didn’t provide for them to be free.  The state argued in the case before Judge Callahan that the new law dealt with that problem by requiring the state to provide free photo IDs.  But the plaintiffs countered that only a small fraction of those IDs had been distributed.

Voter ID laws have been a contentious issue driven by party affiliation.  Assistant Missouri House Democratic Minority Leader Gina Mitten of Richmond Heights issued a statement Tuesday praising the judge’s decision.  “Not only did the court find a key provision of the law ‘impermissibly infringes on a citizen’s right to vote,’ it also ordered Republican state election officials to stop misleading voters with inaccurate ‘educational’ information about what forms of identification are needed to vote,” said Mitten.  “This is a major victory in the battle to preserve the rights of Missouri voters.”

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