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Missouri Judge Clarifies Voter ID Ruling

Missouri voters who do not have a photo ID when they arrive at the polls will no longer have to sign a sworn statement to cast a ballot.

By Kurt Erickson

Missouri voters who do not have a photo ID when they arrive at the polls will no longer have to sign a sworn statement to cast a ballot.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, Cole County Senior Judge Richard Callahan clarified an earlier decision that jettisoned the sworn statement as a requirement for voting on Nov. 6 without a photo ID.

In his ruling, Callahan said the decision "applies to all persons who act in concert and participation with the Secretary of State and the State of Missouri in administering and certifying elections within the State of Missouri, including local election authorities."

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft had argued that an earlier Callahan decision to end the use of the affidavit made it unclear if the ruling applied at the local level.

The Missouri Supreme Court declined to overturn Callahan's decision on Friday and attorneys from both sides of the issue met with the judge Monday to hammer out a clarification heading into what could be a high turnout election.

"Accordingly, voters presenting a form of identification ... shall be allowed to cast a regular ballot without being required to sign an affidavit," Callahan wrote.

Ashcroft issued a blistering response, calling Callahan into question and expressing disappointment in the Supreme Court.

"Today, a mere two weeks from the November 2018 midterm election, Senior Judge Richard Callahan has eviscerated Missouri's photo ID law as crafted by the state Legislature. Somehow, while holding the law constitutional, Judge Callahan has prohibited the enforcement of the law for the upcoming election," Ashcroft said.

"I am deeply concerned that Judge Callahan, who previously struck Missouri's photo ID law in 2006, has once again thwarted the clear desire of Missourians to secure their elections. I am further disappointed that the Missouri Supreme Court has denied my request for an emergency stay of Judge Callahan's ruling," Ashcroft added.

Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is defending Ashcroft, did not rule out further legal action.

"We are reviewing the court's clarification and are determining next steps. We will continue to defend the common-sense Voter ID law that 63 percent of Missourians approved in 2016," said spokeswoman Mary Compton.

House Minority Leader Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, said Ashcroft, a Republican, needs to immediately announce there is not a need for voters to sign the sworn statement.

"When Missouri's top election official intentionally violates a court order so he can continue engaging in voter suppression, it calls the integrity of our elections into question. If Secretary Ashcroft finds himself unable to comply with the court's clear and lawful directive, then he is unfit to oversee our elections," Mitten said.

The haggling is a response to the 2016 decision by Missouri voters to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow lawmakers to create requirements for voters to identify themselves when voting at their polling place, including using photo IDs.

Priorities USA, which is aligned with Democratic causes, said the amendment didn't change the effect of previous constitutional language that said people who are registered properly "are entitled to vote" and the new law enacted under the amendment's authority created problems for people trying to vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union praised Callahan's decision and slammed Ashcroft.

"The Missouri Secretary of State and others sowed confusion for voters this year. We know the real threat to democracy is that not all eligible voters vote. The people should question when the government makes it harder for citizens to exercise this basic right," said Tony Rothert ACLU of Missouri legal director.

St. Louis County officials said Tuesday that sample ballots would be reissued this week after incorrect ballots were mailed to voters on Monday due to a "print vendor error."

The new Notice of Election card that voters receive will be marked "reissued" in red lettering, officials said Tuesday on Facebook. The sample ballots will be reissued at no cost to voters.

Rachel Rice of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

(c)2018 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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