Some Missouri Democratic officeholders held a press conference Monday in which they sharply criticized Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley’s court filing to block a judge’s decision striking portions of Missouri’s voter ID law. St. Louis-based U.S. Congressman William Lacy Clay joined State Senator Minority Leader Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors, and Senator-elect Brian Williams of Ferguson at the gathering in St. Louis.
Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan’s decision issued last Wednesday does away with the requirement for those who don’t present a photo ID at the polls to sign an affidavit. Representative Lacy Clay told Missourinet that the ruling returns the law to its original form where voters could show a utility bill, bank statement or anything that’s verifies their address and cast a regular ballot.
He said the Republican-led state legislature failed to consider how low voter turnout is when it passed legislation aimed at making the practice more difficult. “In presidential elections, only 50 percent of the American people show up to vote, said Lacy Clay. “So, this is just a canard. This is just a way to suppress people from voting.” The eight-term Congressman thinks the law the state legislature passed was intended to prevent voter impersonation which he contends never happens, given the existing low turnout.
Attorney General Hawley quickly filed an appeal and emergency stay petition with the Missouri Supreme Court on behalf of Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. Ashcroft based much of his 2016 election campaign on implementing the voter ID law passed earlier that year by lawmakers. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court requested that the prevailing party in the circuit court case, Priorities USA, submit suggestions in opposition to the motion for the stay by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
In his decision striking the requirement for those without photo ID to sign the affidavit, Judge Callahan said the document, on its face, is contradictory and misleading.
The affidavit 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.
Congressman Clay said the 2016 legislation by Missouri lawmakers is part of a concerted effort across the nation by the GOP to keep certain types of residents from voting. “I see this as an overall attempt nationally to suppress the vote, to impede or block those voters who the Republican Party knows will probably not vote for them,” Clay said.
University of Wisconsin Political Scientist Kenneth Mayer offered expert testimony for the plaintiff, Priorities USA, in the court case. 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.
Congressman Clay views Attorney General Hawley’s court filing is a misuse of public funds in an 11th-hour effort to suppress voter turnout. “Josh Hawley is choosing to use your tax dollars to file this ridiculous appeal in a last-minute effort to disenfranchise thousands of Missouri voters,” Clay said.
Hawley is also locked in a tight race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Claire McCaskill.
His office representing his position as Attorney General didn’t directly respond to Congressman Lacy Clay’s comments, but his spokesperson, Mary Compton defended his Supreme Court filing. She said the lower court’s decision will harm the integrity of the November election while referencing a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2016 which enabled the law approved by the legislature to be implemented.
“We respectfully disagree with the Circuit Court’s decision and we are deeply concerned that issuing an injunction this close to an election will cause confusion and disruption in the orderly administration of election procedures,” said Compton. “We have promptly sought a stay of the ruling and requested clarification from the Missouri Supreme Court to preserve the integrity of the upcoming election. We will continue vigorously defend the commonsense voter ID law that 63% of Missourians approved in 2016.”
In addition to doing away with the affidavit, Circuit Court Judge Callahan’s ruling places other restrictions on the Secretary of State’s office. 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.