Judge raises concern about Missouri voter photo ID law
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge hearing a challenge to Missouri’s voter photo identification law raised concerns Monday that people lacking photo IDs are being asked to sign an inaccurate sworn statement, but he expressed reluctance to strike down the full law.
Senior Cole County Judge Richard Callahan said he expects to rule next week on a lawsuit claiming that the photo ID law enacted in 2016 violates the state constitution.
The decision will have implications for people wishing to vote in the Nov. 6 elections, in which Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill faces a challenge from Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Voter photo ID requirements have been contentious in numerous states, and the Arkansas Supreme Court also is weighing whether to strike down its state law before the general election.
Photo ID requirements are backed most commonly by Republicans who tout them as a means of preventing fraud and opposed most frequently by Democrats who contend they can disenfranchise poor, elderly, disabled and minority voters who are less likely to have photo IDs.
Missouri’s law was enacted when the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto of then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Voters in 2016 also approved a constitutional amendment intended to permit photo identification laws — a response to a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that found a prior photo ID law unconstitutional.
The new law says voters shall establish their identity with a valid government-issued photo identification. But people can still cast regular ballots if they show one of several non-photo forms of identification and sign sworn statements saying they don’t have a photo ID, understand they can get one for free from the state and acknowledge that a photo ID is required to vote.
People also can cast provisional ballots, which will be counted if their signatures match those on file or they return later to show a photo ID.
Callahan said the sworn statement appears to be “inaccurate” because it states people must have a photo ID to vote even though there are ways to do so without one.
The judge said the statement could cause confusion for his elderly mother, whose driver’s license has expired and who now lives in a St. Louis County facility while potentially still listing her voting residence as the home she owns in St. Louis city.
“I think my mother would have a problem looking at that and signing it without fear that she was stating something that was not true,” Callahan told attorneys defending the law.
Deputy Attorney General Ryan Bangert acknowledged “the language is not perfect,” but he said it could be tweaked and was intended “to nudge” voters to get state photo ID cards.
As of Monday, the Missouri Department of Revenue had issued 1,456 free state identification cards to voters who otherwise lacked photo IDs.
That’s a relatively small percentage of the more than 300,000 people the plaintiffs contend may lack valid state driver’s licenses or ID cards, according to state data.
During last week’s trial, several people testified about the difficulties of voting under Missouri’s photo ID law.
“The mistakes that we presented in this case are more than isolated incidents, and they are indicative of a larger problem,” Uzoma Nkwonta, a Washington-based attorney representing the liberal advocacy group Priorities USA, said Monday.
The judge on Monday also questioned whether the state’s promotional campaign for the new law may have misled some people to believe they couldn’t vote without a photo ID.
But despite his concerns, Callahan expressed reluctance to strike down the entire law and noted he has authority to uphold the bulk of it while rejecting only portions.
“It seems to me it would take a much larger record over a longer period of time before you would start to void a statute because it was simply being misapplied by the government,” Callahan said.
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