A lawsuit against Missouri’s voter ID law will move forward.
A case filed in 2017 claimed the state failed to adequately provide education, poll worker training or funding to supply photo ID’s the law called for. The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Missouri was rejected by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem in Jefferson City.
But Tuesday a three-judge panel with the Missouri Appeals Court for the Western District in Kansas City reversed the lower court’s decision, sending the case back to Cole County to be heard.
Another more recent lawsuit challenging the voter ID law was successful after a different Cole County Judge, Richard Callahan, struck down key portions contained in it this month. Callahan’s ruling prevents the state from enforcing procedures and conducting activities meant to force voters to obtain and produce photo ID to vote.
It eliminated a requirement for voters who don’t present a photo ID to sign an affidavit before casting a regular ballot and further prevented the state and local election officials from advertising or distributing information that photo ID’s are required to vote.
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.
Tuesday’s appeals court decision allowing the ACLU lawsuit to move forward could be rendered unnecessary if the Missouri Supreme Court upholds Judge Callahan’s decision. It’s being appealed to the high bench by Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office on behalf of Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. Ashcroft, a Republican, based much of his 2016 campaign for election on enforcement of photo voter ID requirements.
Secretary Ashcroft released a statement Tuesday afternoon criticizing the appeals court decision while pointing out voters passed a ballot measure allowing the General Assembly to craft a photo voter ID law.
“This is just another attempt by the same organizations to throw out a state law passed by the general assembly and approved by 63 percent of Missouri voters in 2016,” said Ashcroft. “It’s unfortunate that these same organizations continue to desperately challenge a law already held as constitutional, and continue to force taxpayers to spend state resources refuting these challenges.
Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-Missouri, says his organization’s court case could still be relevant if the Supreme Court overturns Judge Callahan’s decision. “It’s possible our case will become unimportant because everyone will be able to vote as they have since the mid-1990’s by showing any one of a multitude of forms of identification,” said Rothert. “But we don’t know today what the outcome of that case will be. And therefore, we don’t know what the importance of this case will be.”
Callahan’s decision essentially returned voting ID requirements in Missouri to their previous form where those casting a ballot need only identify themselves with documents such as a voter registration card, utility bill, bank statement or college ID.
The Supreme Court has yet to say whether it’ll accept or deny the attorney general’s appeal of Callahan’s ruling. It has thus far rejected the attorney general’s emergency motion to stay the decision, which means voters without photo ID will not have to sign an affidavit in next week’s election.
Before the appeals court in Kansas City, the ACLU put forth that the state could not enforce any photo voter ID provisions in the law because lawmakers didn’t provide adequate funding to educate the public about its requirements.
Its lawsuit noted Secretary Ashcroft asked for $5 million to cover costs for enacting the law but was only allocated $1.5 million by the legislature. Rothert noted that the appeals court rejected the state’s argument that the legislature didn’t have to allocate money as long as it reimbursed the secretary of state for expenses. “The court of appeals found that that argument doesn’t work under Missouri law because the secretary of state is not allowed to spend any money that’s not appropriated,” Rothert said.
GOP politicians have implemented photo voter ID law in various states, arguing they’re necessary to prevent voter fraud.
Democrats argue the statutes are intended to suppress the votes of students, minorities and the elderly who may be less supportive of Republicans. Courts have struck down some of the photo voter ID laws while others remain in place. The Missouri Supreme Court tossed a previous such law passed by the Legislature in 2006.