The fate of a key part of Missouri’s new voter photo identification law is now in the hands of state Supreme Court judges, who on Thursday questioned state attorneys’ requests to at least spare parts of the provision.
The law had directed voters to present a valid photo ID, or to sign a sworn statement and present some other form of identification to cast a regular ballot.
But Senior Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan in 2018 struck down the requirement that voters without proper photo ID sign a sworn statement. He ruled that the affidavit was misleading because it implied proper photo ID is necessary to vote, despite the fact that the law had allowed voters without ID who signed the affidavit to cast ballots.
The affidavit voters were asked to sign stated in part that voters are “required to present a form of personal identification, as prescribed by law, in order to vote.”
Lawyers representing Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office argued that the affidavit is not misleading.
“There’s no individual voter while they were at the polls (who) read the affidavit and said, ‘I can’t sign this. I find it too confusing,’” Solicitor General John Sauer told Supreme Court judges.
Sauer said if nothing else, the lower court judge went too far by completely striking the sworn-statement requirement. Instead, he argued that the Supreme Court should either trim out the problematic sections or allow Ashcroft, who supports voter ID laws, to rewrite it.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs who sued over the law and Supreme Court judges questioned whether a rewrite is allowed.
“There is no authority for that,” plaintiffs’ attorney Marc Elias said of the possibility for the secretary of state to redraft the affidavit.
High court judges also questioned whether the law allows them to revamp the sworn statement, which lawmakers had outlined in the legislation.
“What you’re asking for is changing (the affidavit),” Judge Laura Denvir Stith told Sauer in court. “We have many cases that say we cannot rewrite the statute for the Legislature.”
The 2016 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.
Voter photo ID requirements have been pushed by Republicans in numerous states as a means of preventing fraud. They have been opposed by Democrats who contend such laws can disenfranchise poor, elderly, disabled and minority voters who are less likely to have photo IDs.
Washington-based liberal advocacy group Priorities USA filed the lawsuit on behalf of some Missouri voters.
Lawyers for the group wrote in a court filing that plaintiffs found the affidavit “confusing and inconsistent, and expressed that they would not sign it in the future particularly given the threat of criminal penalty for perjury.”
Judges did not indicate when they might rule.