A Missouri judge is expected to determine this week whether the state law requiring voters to present photo ID to cast their ballots is constitutional and can continue.
A Missouri judge is expected to decide this week if voters in the state will be required to present photo identification in order to cast their ballots in upcoming 2024 elections.
In October 2022, Cole County Presiding Judge Jon Beetem had already rejected a lawsuit brought by the Missouri League of Women Voters, NAACP and two voters challenging a law passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature making it mandatory that voters show photo identification to cast a regular ballot. Under the 2022 law, people within a valid government-issued photo ID are still able to submit provisional ballots, which will be counted if they return later that day with a photo ID or if election officials verify their signatures.
However, a third voter has since joined the lawsuit, and Beetem is presiding over a trial on the matter that began last week and is expected to continue until Wednesday.
Last year, Beetem ruled that neither of the first two voters "alleged a specific, concrete, non-speculative injury or legally protectable interest in challenging the photo ID requirement," FOX 2 St. Louis reported. The new, third plaintiff is John O’Connor, a 90-year-old man from Columbia, Missouri, with poor vision and trouble walking.
According to the Missouri ACLU and Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, which added O'Conner to the litigation against the state, the elderly resident had an expired passport and driver's license when the law took effect last year. The lawsuit says O'Conner, who was born in New York and had trouble locating his birth certificate, later secured a non-driver's license with his wife's help. However, that was only because officials accepted his expired driver's license, going against guidance from the state Revenue Department that long-expired licenses are not permissable records to use when seeking new IDs, according to ABC News.
Republican Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's office is defending the law at trial.
"I will always fight to maintain Missouri’s accessible, secure and creditable elections. Regarding this case – every person has been able to vote – no one has been denied a ballot because they didn’t have an ID," Ashcroft said in a statement. "As specified in statute, my office will help get an ID for anyone who needs one to vote. Furthermore, if someone does not have an ID on Election Day, if they are registered, they can still vote."
"Missouri has passed voter ID three times to protect our elections and I keep getting sued to stop the law. Today we are back in court defending voter integrity," Ashcroft added on X Monday. The state legislature previously passed laws in 2006 and again in 2020 to require voters to present photo ID but both those measures were struck down in court.
Republicans said the goal of the 2022 law was to deter voter fraud, but the plaintiffs in the case argue the legislation places unconstitutional hurdles on voting, suppressing turnout.
During opening arguments Friday, Assistant Attorney General Peter Donohue defended the 2022 legislation as a "common-sense law designed to uphold that sacred right" to vote. Claiming the burdens are minimal and that the benefits are substantial, he added that Missouri will issue an identification card for a voter who needs one at no cost and help them obtain the documents.
"Protecting the integrity of elections is absolutely a compelling governmental interest," Donohue said.
Rutgers University political science professor Lorraine Minnite testified Monday that she concluded "instances of voter fraud nationally and in Missouri is exceedingly rare."
Another expert witness for the Missouri NAACP and the League of Women Voters, Kenneth Mayer, a political scientist from the University of Wisconsin, testified that about 175,000 votes cast in St. Louis County – or 8.4% of the total – between 2018 and 2022 were cast by people who did not have a Missouri-issued driver's license, nondriver identification or a federally issued ID with their birth date, The Missouri Independent reported. Those figures were slightly higher in Jackson County, Mayer said, and nearly double in Boone County.
Denise Lieberman, director of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, told FOX 2 that more than 137,000 valid Missouri registered voters do not have any Missouri ID on file with the Missouri Department of Revenue. Additionally, an additional 140,000 have an expired form of ID that would not be eligible to allow them to vote, she said.
Before the 2022 midterm elections, it was acceptable for Missourians to present a voter registration card, a student identification card, a bank statement or utility bill or a valid out-of-state driver's license to cast their ballots in the state. Mayer testified that overall turnout for 2022 was about 20% lower than the presidential year of 2020, but the number of provisional ballots cast was four times higher. "Voters frequently misunderstand the kind of ID that is required," he claimed.