By Kurt Erickson
A Cole County judge ruled Tuesday that Missouri election officials can no longer tell voters that a photo ID is required to cast a ballot.
With the Nov. 6 election less than a month away, Senior Judge Richard Callahan scolded Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's office for circulating misleading advertisements about the law.
Callahan ordered Ashcroft to revamp how the office explains voting law requirements, because voters have other options they can use to vote without a picture ID.
He said not only were voters confused, but also local election authorities offered voters differing interpretations of the law.
"No compelling state interest is served by misleading local election authorities and voters into believing a photo ID card is a requirement for voting," Callahan said.
"As desirable as a Missouri-issued photo ID might be, unlike an American Express card, you may leave home without it, at least on election day," Callahan wrote in his six-page decision.
The ruling, which keeps the law intact, comes in response to a lawsuit filed in June by the Democratic-leaning organization Priorities USA, which called the law unconstitutional.
Under the law, voters can cast a normal ballot without a valid photo ID if they sign a statement and present another form of acceptable identification such as a voter registration card, utility bill or bank statement.
The law also calls for election officials to tell voters they will not be permitted to vote in future elections unless they present a photo ID.
Voters can cast a provisional ballot. That vote would count if the person came back to the polling place later with a photo ID, or if the person's signature matched his or her signature on the voting rolls.
Priorities USA said the law creates undue burdens for voters who lack the required photo identification and could illegally suppress turnout, especially among so-called "vulnerable populations," such as the elderly and minorities.
In his ruling, Callahan said there is evidence of misinformation emanating from the Department of Revenue and local election authorities about the law.
But, he said, "there is no evidence of a concerted effort to undermine the law or to discourage people from obtaining the necessary documents" to get a photo ID card.
And, he added, most of the requirements imposed by the law are reasonable.
"The state has a legitimate interest in preserving the integrity of the election process and may adopt such protections as are reasonable, serve a compelling state interest and are closely tailored to effectuate that interest," Callahan noted.
However, he also said the affidavit that people can sign to vote if they don't have the proper documents is contradictory and misleading and should no longer be used.
Ashcroft issued a statement about the ruling:
"Although our office does not agree with all of the judge's findings, we're pleased the court found that the voter ID law is constitutional, and the judge did not find anyone was prevented from voting. We plan to seek a stay and appeal the decision to a higher court, which we believe will overturn the judge's errors."
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