COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A trial for a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Missouri’s new photo identification requirement for voters is scheduled to begin Friday. Here is a look at the function of the law and why voting rights groups are suing:
WHAT THE LAW DOES
Missouri’s GOP-led Legislature last year capped off a nearly two-decade-long push by Republicans and passed a law requiring voters to show photo identification to cast a regular ballot.
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People without a government-issued photo ID can cast provisional ballots to be counted if they return later that day with a photo ID or if election officials verify their signatures. The law requires the state to provide a free photo identification card to those lacking one to vote.
The Missouri League of Women Voters, NAACP and two voters sued to overturn the law last year, arguing the change makes casting ballots unconstitutionally difficult for some voters.
Cole County Presiding Judge Jon Beetem, who also will hear arguments in the trial beginning Friday, dismissed the case in October 2022. He found neither of the two voters “alleged a specific, concrete, non-speculative injury or legally protectable interest in challenging the photo ID requirement.”
The Missouri ACLU and Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, who sued on behalf of the plaintiffs, have since added another voter to the lawsuit and asked Beetem again to find the voter ID requirement unconstitutional.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE LAW
The newest plaintiff is John O’Connor, a 90-year-old Columbia, Missouri, resident with poor vision who needs help walking. When the law took effect last year, O’Connor had an expired passport and driver’s license, which are not acceptable forms of identification to vote under state law.
His lawyers argued he eventually obtained a non-driver’s license with the help of his wife, but only because officials accepted his expired driver’s license despite guidance from the state Revenue Department that long-expired licenses are not acceptable records to use when seeking new IDs.
“Even when a voter obtains the underlying documentation, voters who lack transportation, cannot get to the DMV or other government agencies during their hours of operation, or have a disability or impairment that prevents them from accessing a DMV, the voter is still unable to surmount the burdens to obtaining a photo ID,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote in a pretrial brief.
ARGUMENTS FOR THE LAW
Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office is defending the law in court. The state lawyers argue that, so far, no one has been turned away at the polls because of the law.
Missouri provides free non-driver’s licenses for voting to those who do not already have a driver’s license or have a current license. The health department’s Bureau of Vital Records provides free birth certificates to those seeking their first non-driver’s license in order to vote if the applicant does not have a current driver’s license.
“There is not a severe burden on the right to vote as the State has gone to great lengths to help voters obtain IDs,” Bailey wrote in a court brief.
VOTER ID ELSEWHERE
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 36 states request or require identification to vote, of which at least 20 ask for a photo ID.
Other Republican-led states are moving in the same direction as Missouri as they respond to conservative voters unsettled by unfounded claims of widespread fraud and persistent conspiracy theories over the accuracy of U.S. elections. Critics characterize such requirements as an overreaction that could disenfranchise eligible voters.
For the first time this year, Ohio voters were required show photo identification to cast ballots in person. The new law eliminated previously acceptable non-photo options, such as a utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck. State-issued photo IDs are available free of charge
Missouri Republicans are not the only ones who had to fight for years to enact ID requirements.
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North Carolina’s voter photo identification law, enacted nearly five years ago by the Republican-controlled legislature but blocked by litigation, is just now being implemented. Registered voters there can get free IDs at their county election offices if they provide their name, date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Nebraska lawmakers this summer passed a voter ID law allowing a wide array of photo identification that voters can present at the polls. IDs include passports, driver’s licenses, military and tribal IDs and Nebraska college IDs. Expired IDs are allowed if they have the voter’s name and photo. Residents of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers will be able to use patient documents that include a photo.