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Judge rejects portion of Missouri’s voter photo-ID law, but allows most of it to continue

A Cole County judge has upheld most of Missouri's voter ID law, which took effect in 2017.
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
A Cole County judge has upheld most of Missouri's voter ID law, which took effect in 2017.

Updated Oct. 23 with clarified ruling — A Cole County judge has made it clear that Missouri voters who do not have photo identification will not have to sign a sworn statement in order to vote in November.

Judge Richard Callahan on Tuesday clarified that an earlier court opinion throwing out the sworn statement applied to election officials in the state’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft had asked for the clarification in an effort to avoid confusion on Election Day.

Missouri’s voter I-D law allows individuals to cast ballots using documents like a utility bill. But it also required them to sign an affidavit saying they do not possess a proper form of ID to vote. Callahan called that misleading — and threw out the statement.

Original story from Oct. 10 — A Cole County judge has rejecteda sworn statement that Missouri voters who wanted to use non-photo forms of identification had to sign in order to vote.

But Richard Callahan’s ruling, issued Tuesday, says most of the identification requirement the Missouri Legislature created in 2016 “is within its constitutional prerogative under the Missouri Constitution."

READ: Judge Callahan’s photo ID ruling

The law, which took effect in June 2017, allows voters to present documents like utility bills or college IDs. But those voters then had to sign a statement that they “do not possess a form of personal identification approved for voting” — which Callahan called “contradictory and misleading.”

“The affidavit plainly requires the voter to swear that they do not possess a form of personal identification approved for voting while simultaneously presenting to the election authority a form of personal identification that is approved,” Callahan wrote Tuesday. Implying that a photo ID is required to vote, he said, “is an outright misstatement of law.”

Under the ruling, voters who show non-photo identification will not have to sign the affidavit as it’s currently written. The state, Callahan said, cannot produce any materials that say a photo ID is required to vote, and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft must make it clear that voters can use other forms of ID.

But he did not throw out a third part of the law that governs voters who do not have any forms of ID.

Priorities USA, the politically progressive group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Missouri voters, called Callahan’s ruling “an important victory for voting rights.” Its attorneys had challenged the entire law’s constitutionality and painted it as a tool to keep thousands of Missouri residents from voting.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft sharply criticized the ruling in a written statement, and said he’s working with the attorney general’s office on an appeal.

“The timing of this ruling is unduly creating mass confusion,” Ashcroft said. “Judge Callahan’s decision directs the STATE not to use the statement; however, local election authorities enforce the statement requirement and so it is not clear if they are bound by the judge’s decision.”

READ: Missouri’s photo-ID voter law challenged in circuit court

Callahan’s decision has no impact on a separate casefiled in 2017 by the ACLU of Missouri challenging the lack of funding for training and free IDs. Cole County judge Jon Beetum threw out that lawsuit in January — a state appeals panel will hear arguments on that ruling on Wednesday.

Reporter Marshall Griffin contributed to this report.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Copyright 2018 St. Louis Public Radio

Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.