On Tuesday Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia S. Joyce ruled against language proposed to amend Missouri’s constitution to require photo identification to vote.
The ruling came thanks to a a legal challenge brought by the Advancement Project, Fair Elections Legal Network, American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri on behalf of nine Missourians that the ballot language to a proposal to amend the state constitution’s voting requirements is misleading and invalidated the proposed amendment.
“We are pleased that the court sent a strong statement that respects the voters of Missouri,” said Ben Hovland, Senior Counsel of the Fair Elections Legal Network. “Missourians deserve to know what they are being asked to vote on, particularly when a fundamental right, like the right to vote, is at stake.”
The lawsuit, filed in July 2011, is the first-ever challenge to a constitutional amendment on photo ID laws. The lawsuit could pave the way for a challenge to a similar law passed in Minnesota.
The proposed ballot title for Missouri’s so-called “Voter Protection Act” was found to be misleading in that it “fails in several respects to accurately inform citizens as to the subject matter on which they are asked to vote, and significant revisions would be required to correct the statement.”
“The judge was absolutely right to reject this deceptive initiative,” remarked Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “It failed to make clear to voters that they were being asked to give up a fundamental right. There is nothing ‘protective’ about placing restrictions on the fundamental right of citizens to participate in the democratic process.”
The ballot initiative in question, SJR2, was slated to be placed on the ballot for November 2012. It would have allowed the legislature to pass legislation requiring voters to present a photo ID to vote. It was passed by the legislature in May, 2011 in an attempt to circumvent the Missouri Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling that restrictive photo ID voting laws are unconstitutional and could impact as many as 230,000 Missourians.
“Allowing those qualified to vote is essential to our democracy,” said Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. “By trying to restrict this fundamental right, the General Assembly would make citizens jump through hoops to make their voices heard. Unnecessary restrictions affect real voters and should be rejected.”
This initiative is part of a recent trend of legislation introduced by conservative legislatures to restrict registration and voting. These laws will prevent millions of Americans – mostly seniors, minorities, working poor, people with disabilities, and students – from voting because they lack acceptable ID. So far courts have been the last defenders of the right to vote, though several challenges to Voter ID and other restrictions are pending in federal courts including one likely review by the Supreme Court.
Photo from richiec via flickr.