Missouri sued over strict voter ID law

A Democratic group alleges the state constitution guarantees the right to vote.

A woman exits a polling station after voting on November 8, 2016 in Florissant, Missouri.   (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
A woman exits a polling station after voting on November 8, 2016 in Florissant, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

A new lawsuit filed Wednesday in Missouri claims the state’s strict photo identification law, which could disenfranchise roughly 200,000 registered voters, is unconstitutional.

Priorities USA, an arm of a group whose super PAC supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, argues that the state’s voter ID law is unlawful, despite a constitutional amendment that Republicans passed in order to shield the law from legal scrutiny, according to the lawsuit.

Advertisement

In 2006, the Missouri supreme court invalidated the state’s previous iteration of a voter ID law, finding it violated the state constitution, which guarantees the right to vote. So a decade later, when GOP lawmakers passed another version of the law — called HB 1631 — they also passed Amendment 6. That amendment added a clause to the state constitution saying that voters “may be required” to provide “election officials with a form of identification.”

In Wednesday’s lawsuit, Priorities USA claims that Amendment 6 does not eliminate the constitutional right to vote, and therefore the voter ID law passed in 2016 is unconstitutional.

“HB 1631 violates these provisions by requiring voters to present one of several very narrow categories of photo ID that many Missourians lack, thus imposing severe and unnecessary burdens on the right to vote that extend well beyond whatever limited authority Amendment 6 may have conveyed,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mildred Gutierrez, a 70-year-old Missouri resident who does not have a valid form of photo ID because she failed her vision test when she tried to renew her driver’s license. In November 2017, Gutierrez was forced to sign a sworn statement under penalty of perjury in order to vote, and was told she couldn’t vote in future elections unless she presented a photo ID.

Under state law, if a voter like Gutierrez does not have one of the forms of photo ID required to vote, they can present a secondary form of non-photo ID and sign a statement swearing they do not have a photo ID. If they don’t have either form of identification, they are required to cast a provisional ballot — which is only counted if the voter returns to the polling place with photo ID or if an election official determines that their signature matches the signature on file.

Advertisement

In 2014, Missouri’s secretary of state issued a report finding that a voter ID requirement similar to HB 1631 would disenfranchise approximately 220,000 registered voters who lack a photo ID.

“Not only are these burdens severe, the only justification advanced by legislators in support of HB 1631’s additional restrictions on the right to vote (i.e. preventing voter fraud) is flimsy at best,” Priorities USA’s lawsuit alleges.

Last month, a court dismissed a separate lawsuit over Missouri’s voter ID law that challenged the requirement on different legal grounds. In that suit, the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the NAACP and League of Women Voters, alleged that the state failed to provide both the required voter education about the law and free voter IDs and birth certificates.

“Missouri’s voter ID law is simple. If you’re registered to vote, you can vote,” Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) said on January 3rd when the suit was dismissed. “We followed the law, we expanded ballot access and we didn’t disenfranchise voters. We applaud the years of work by the state legislature to put this voter ID law on the ballot.”

In total, 34 states have some kind of law requiring voters to show identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. And according to the Brennan Center for Justice, studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID.

Advertisement

Symone Sanders, a strategist for Priorities USA, told ThinkProgress the group has been active in targeting both voter ID laws and other policies designed to suppress voting.

“Since 2017, more than 35 states have introduced well over 100 bills to curb the right to vote, in some way, shape, or form, whether it’s voter ID, whether it’s consolidating precincts, anything of that nature,” she said. “So Priorities USA has been engaged in a legislative monitoring effort and in some instances, we have been successful in stopping these very disastrous bills that threaten the right to vote.”

Indeed, Missouri is just the latest state to be targeted by Priorities USA. Last month, the group sued Iowa’s new voter ID law, claiming it also violates the state constitution. Similar lawsuits have been brought in Indiana and Florida.