Missouri Supreme Court strikes down law requiring voters without photo ID to sign affidavits

On January 14, 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court, in a 5-2 ruling, upheld a lower court’s decision striking down a state law that required voters without photo ID to sign affidavits before voting. Consequently, voters in Missouri may present either photo or non-photo identification at the polls and cast regular ballots without signing affidavits.

On October 9, 2018, Richard Callahan, a state court judge, originally enjoined the affidavit provision. Callahan found that the affidavit’s language was “contradictory and misleading,” requiring signers to “swear that they do not possess a form of personal identification approved for voting while simultaneously presenting to the election authority a form of personal identification that is approved.” Callahan ordered officials to desist from executing the affidavit for voters presenting non-photo ID at the polls. Callahan also ordered officials not to distribute any materials indicating that a photo ID is required to vote. State officials appealed the decision and asked the state supreme court to stay Callahan’s order. On October 19, 2018, the state supreme court denied the request for a stay, but permitted the appeal to proceed. This allowed Callahan’s order to stand in advance of the November 6, 2018, election.

The state supreme court heard oral arguments in the appeal in October 2019. Justice Mary Russell penned the court’s opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice George Draper and Justices Paul Wilson, Patricia Breckenridge, and Laura Stith. Justices Wesley Powell and Zel Fischer dissented. Russell wrote, “Because the affidavit requirement of sections 115.427.2(1) and 115.427.3 is misleading and contradictory, the circuit court’s judgment declaring the affidavit requirement unconstitutional is affirmed. Further, the circuit court did not err in enjoining the State from requiring individuals who vote under the non-photo identification option provided in section 115.427.2(1) to execute the affidavit or in enjoining it from disseminating materials indicating photo identification is required to vote.”

Powell, joined by Fischer, wrote the following in his dissent: “If the affidavit requirement set forth in section 155.4271 is ambiguous, contradictory, and unconstitutional as the principal opinion proclaims, the opinion errs in severing the entire affidavit requirement without also severing the non-photo identification option set out in section 115.427.2 in its entirety. Because the legislature would not have enacted the non-photo identification option without an accompanying affidavit requirement, the principal opinion’s remedy is contrary to law.”

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Additional reading:
Voter identification laws by state
Election governance in Missouri