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One month before midterms, judge rejects Missouri’s strict voter ID law

The voting rights win comes just one month before the midterm election.

Ann Moss checks a voter's ID before signing her in to vote at Hunters Creek Elementary School in Houston.
(Photo by Lucian Perkins /for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ann Moss checks a voter's ID before signing her in to vote at Hunters Creek Elementary School in Houston. (Photo by Lucian Perkins /for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A judge has blocked parts of Missouri’s voter ID law, ruling that election officials cannot require voters to show photo identification at the polls in November.

On the pretext of combatting voter fraud, Missouri’s General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 mandating voter ID. The following year, election officials began distributing materials telling voters they would be required to show a photo ID card at the polls.

The amendment would also have compelled voters without photo ID sign a sworn affidavit and present a different form of ID before being allowed to cast a ballot.

But Cole County Judge Richard Callahan ruled on Tuesday that the law infringes on Missourians’ constitutional right to vote. Callahan sided with the progressive advocacy group Priorities USA, which filed the lawsuit in June.

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The judge also ruled that the state cannot issue election materials to advertise on radio, television or in election materials that photo ID is required.

“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 wrote in his decision.

State officials said they plan to appeal the order. In a statement, Missouri’s Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said it’s not clear if local elections officials will be bound by the decision.

“The timing of this ruling is unduly creating mass confusion,” he said, adding that “many local election authorities have already trained poll workers… to require voters to sign a statement. The judge’s decision creates confusion for voters as well as local election authorities.”

The decision comes less than a month before the midterm election, when a closely-watched US Senate seat will be on the ballot. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is facing a challenge from state Attorney General Josh Hawley. Polls show the race is extremely close, with less than a point separating the two candidates.

The rare win for voting rights advocates comes on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling in which the high court indicated it does not take issue with suppressive voter ID laws.

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Also on Tuesday meanwhile, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s order requiring North Dakota residents to show certain forms of ID and to prove their residential address at the polls, despite evidence that the law disenfranchises Native American voters.

Many Native voters do not have traditional postal addresses or lack the necessary forms of ID to cast a ballot.

The ruling is seen as setback for incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who is relying on support from North Dakota’s Native voters in next month’s midterm election.

Heitkamp is trailing her Republican challenger in the race, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) which could determine the control of the US Senate.

This post has been updated with a statement from Missouri’s secretary of state.