Trial Challenging Missouri’s Voter ID Law Set to Start Monday
CONTACT: Joshua Garner
JEFFERSON CITY, MO — In a case that could determine the fate of Missouri’s voter ID law, a coalition of local and national voter advocates kick off a trial Monday in a legal challenge to the implementation of that law. The trial will begin at 9 a.m. August 19 in Cole County Circuit Court before Judge Jon Beetem.
At stake is Missourians’ fundamental right to vote.
“States are not allowed to make an end-run around voting rights by imposing confusing and burdensome changes to the voting rules and then failing to ensure sufficient funding to properly educate voters about those changes,” said Sophia Lakin, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
“Missouri’s law is confusing. At heart, voter ID requirements are designed to make it harder to vote – particularly for people of color, young voters, seniors, and voters with disabilities. The effect is magnified when the state fails to uphold its end of the bargain to ensure that voters are informed about the rules,” said Denise Lieberman, Senior Attorney and Director of Power & Democracy at Advancement Project National Office. “Invariably, the state’s failure to do so means the burden falls on the backs of voters.”
The case, Missouri State Conference of the NAACP et al. v. State of Missouri, brought by Advancement Project National Office, ACLU of Missouri, the ACLU National Voting Rights Project and Covington & Burling LLP more than two years ago on behalf of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, League of Women Voters of Missouri and Christine Dragonette, claims Missouri’s latest voter ID law was not sufficiently implemented, causing widespread confusion for voters and poll workers.
“The NAACP has long raised concerns about Missouri’s efforts to implement a voter ID law, and it is one of the reasons we have issued a travel advisory for the state,” said Nimrod Chapel, President of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, who will testify on Monday. “We look forward to having our day in court.”
“All eligible voters deserve the right to vote,” said Evelyn Maddox, President of the League of Women Voters of Missouri. “It is the state’s job to make sure that all eligible voters have access to the ballot. But instead voters have been left to fend for themselves, leading to confusion, especially after the law was changed just weeks before last year’s elections. Missouri should be more responsive to the needs of its voters.”
Missouri’s voter ID law went into effect in 2017, following passage of a voter referendum in 2016, and is the latest in a more than decade-long saga of voter ID in Missouri, following a national trend of states passing overly restrictive voting laws. Missouri’s law explicitly requires the state to notify voters and provides that the voter ID requirements cannot go into effect if the state has failed to fund these mandates.
“Voters were promised that Missouri’s voter ID law was not about disenfranchising the most vulnerable in our state,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The state’s lack of funding and implementation of this law tells another story.”
“This law creates real consequences for voters,” said plaintiff Christine Dragonette, who oversees an ID acquisition program through St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis. “Without adequate information and assistance, the people I work with face real obstacles navigating the process.”
The case was filed in June 2017 when the voter ID law went into effect, but was initially dismissed. A court of appeals ruling last year allowed the case to go forward. “More than two years after filing this lawsuit, we are pleased our clients will finally have their day in court,” said attorney Robert Fram from the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.
Since 2010, at least 15 states have implemented stricter voter identification requirements, including six with strict photo ID requirements. These laws have been found to disproportionately impact voters of color, seniors, young voters and other marginalized communities. Missouri was one of the first states to pass a strict photo ID requirement in 2006, but that law was struck by the Missouri Supreme Court, which found it violated the right to vote. The 2016 constitutional amendment allowed the current law to be implemented. State records indicate that more than 220,000 registered voters in Missouri lack a current state-issued ID.
“The stakes are high,” Lieberman said. “Without a proactive robust outreach effort, we risk blocking thousands of valid voters from their rightful place in democracy.”
The case was filed on behalf of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Missouri and Christine Dragonette. Trial begins at 9 a.m. Monday, August 19 in Cole County Circuit Court.
Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.
The ACLU preserves and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians as guaranteed in the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions, with a focus on the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments.