Voter ID ruling has election authorities worried about confusion at polls

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As the Nov. 6 general election approaches, a new shake-up regarding voter identification laws has election authorities across Missouri — including in Boone County — on their toes.

Cole County Judge Richard Callahan on Tuesday blocked provisions of the voter ID law that require people with a non-photo ID to sign an affidavit before casting a ballot. Callahan issued the ruling in a lawsuit filed against the state by Priorities USA.

Although an affidavit requirement could be reasonable, the one used for voters who present an ID without a photo is “contradictory and misleading,” Callahan ruled.

“The affidavit plainly requires the voter 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 wrote.

After the ruling, the office of Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft emailed county clerks to let them know it would appeal the ruling and seek a stay, Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks said.

With little to no other guidance, election authorities are left to figure out what the ruling means, Burks said.

In Boone County, the main concern is whether back-and-forth changes to the law prevent poll workers from all being on the same page come Election Day.

“We will have roughly 450 poll workers for Nov. 6,” Burks said. “Training for that is starting. Is everyone getting the same information when they sit through our training classes, or has a judge and the court system changed the law essentially in the middle of the election season?”

Voters could become confused as well, Burks said.

Making the change to comply with Callahan’s ruling wouldn’t be difficult, Burks said. Registered voters who bring an approved ID — photo or not — would be able to cast a ballot without signing an affidavit. Those who have no ID at all would have to sign a sworn statement, the affidavit, and cast a provisional ballot.

Burks said he and a county attorney reviewed the instruction on the sample ballot and found no issue. This was after the ruling also determined that the state’s advertising of the law was misleading and suggested a photo ID was necessary.

Brianna Lennon, a Democrat who is challenging Burks, a Republican, for the clerk position on the November ballot, said she supports Callahan’s decision.

“The judge’s ruling is really good for voters,” Lennon said. “I think that this ruling clarifies that no matter what type of ID that you have, you can present it at the polling place and get a ballot and vote.”

Lennon said that with four weeks to go before the election the most important thing is to make sure voters know exactly what they need to bring to their polling place.

“Any kind of confusion makes it less likely that voters are going to take the time to come out to the polls,” Lennon said.

Although Burks said he supports the voter ID law, in part because it provides an avenue to obtain a photo ID if a voter doesn’t have one, he isn’t opposed to policymakers discussing or changing it. He just takes issue with the timing of those changes.

Burks said decisions about voter ID will probably go back-and-forth until the Missouri Supreme Court issues a ruling.

“Boone Countians voted in favor of the constitutional amendment,” Burks said. “I think the public expectation to have these common-sense laws is there. But here we are, three years later, still with legal fights over it. At some point we gotta determine what our ruling’s going to be.”

Until then, Burks said the most important thing to know about Missouri election law is that if someone is registered to vote in Boone County, they will be able to vote.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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