JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered a blow to long-running Republican efforts to require photo identification at the polls.
In a 5-2 opinion written by Judge Mary R. Russell, the high court upheld a lower court’s decision that forbade the secretary of state from publishing information indicating photo identification is required to vote.
It also said Senior Cole County Judge Richard Callahan made the right decision in 2018 when he jettisoned a requirement that voters without photo IDs sign an affidavit attesting to their identities.
At issue is a 2016 decision by Missouri voters to amend the state constitution to allow lawmakers to create requirements for voters to identify themselves at their polling place, including using photo IDs.
The resulting law directed voters to present a valid photo ID, or to sign a sworn statement and present some other form of identification in order to cast a regular ballot.
The affidavit also asked voters to certify that they knew Missouri had photo ID requirements, and that the voters did not possess a valid form of personal identification.
According to the opinion, one voter who presented a voter identification card and signed an affidavit in 2017 “testified the language of the affidavit was confusing and ambiguous because it required them to state they do not possess personal identification when they, in fact, did have their voter identification card.”
Two voters “testified they would not sign the affidavit to vote in a future election,” which is required for voters who don’t bring a valid ID.
A statement from Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office said the Supreme Court’s decision “eviscerated” the 2016 ballot question, which 63% of voters approved, and that “opponents have failed to bring forth a single voter who was unable to vote as a result of the voter ID requirements.”
“The people of Missouri made it clear in November of 2016 that it is reasonable to require a photo ID to vote,” Ashcroft, a Republican, said in a statement. “That voter ID law strengthened protections at the ballot box and, just as importantly, expanded access to the ballot ensuring registered voters would no longer be turned away on Election Day.”
After Callahan’s ruling in October 2018, the secretary of state’s office advised local election authorities to allow voters without photo ID to cast regular ballots without a sworn statement.
Callahan threw out the sworn statement provision following a lawsuit by Priorities USA, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization that called the requirements a “constitutional farce” that could disenfranchise 220,000 voters.
Priorities USA said the law creates undue burdens for voters who lack the required photo identification and could illegally suppress turnout, especially among “vulnerable populations,” such as the elderly and minorities.
Callahan ruled the affidavit is contradictory and misleading and should no longer be used.
The state appealed, saying Callahan should have called for a rewrite of the affidavit, rather than tossing it.
In October arguments before the court, Priorities USA attorney Marc Elias called on the judges to stick with Callahan’s decision.
“The affidavit is confusing, misleading,” he said.
Judges W. Brent Powell and Zel Fischer dissented.
“While the affidavit requirement ... may be contradictory, the remedy offered by the principal opinion is improper,” Powell wrote. “Furthermore, I disagree that the secretary of state should be enjoined from disseminating educational materials about the new voter identification law.”