Judge strikes down voter ID law

Friday, September 15, 2006

A judge struck down Missouri's new voter identification law Thursday as an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote.

The ruling, from Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan, was handed down a day before a traveling van bringing the opportunity to obtain a free photo ID was scheduled to visit VIP Industries in Cape Girardeau.

The visit will go on as planned, state Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau, said Thursday. Another visit is set for Wednesday at Country Gardens residential care facility.

The vans will work first to issue IDs to employees at VIP Industries, a sheltered workshop for the handicapped, and residents of Country Gardens, an assisted living facility, Cooper said.

"What I am trying to do is raise awareness that folks without photo IDs need to get them," Cooper said.

Free IDs are also available at state license bureau offices. To obtain an ID, an applicant must show proof of lawful presence, proof of identity and proof of residency.

It's not the requirement for the ID that's the problem, Callahan said in his ruling. Instead, he focused on the requirements for supporting documents as the basis for his ruling.

Callahan said the requirement is a particular burden to women and the poor. That's because a separate Missouri law requires those getting or renewing a driver's license to show they are lawfully in the country, generally with a birth certificate or passport.

Those whose name has changed, such as some married women, also must provide documents showing those changes. While the ID to vote would be free, underlying paperwork has a cost, and the judge said that's unacceptable.

"While a license to drive may be just that: a license and not a right. The right to vote is also just that: a right and not a license," the judge wrote.

Callahan said a photo ID requirement is not a burden for most of society. Supporters have said that 95 percent of Missourians already have the ID they would need.

"However, for the elderly, the poor, the under-educated, or otherwise disadvantaged, the burden can be great if not insurmountable, and it is those very people outside the mainstream of society who are the least equipped to bear the costs or navigate the many bureaucracies necessary to obtain the required documentation," the judge wrote in his ruling.

Supporters of the law argued it's necessary to prevent fraud and increase confidence in the election process. But opponents who sued said it would disproportionately harm the poor, elderly and disabled who may be least likely to drive.

The law was designed to protect the integrity of the voting system, Cooper said. Additional efforts in the future to protect voting from fraud are likely, he added.

Without the added requirements to obtain a license or state ID card, the judge ruled, the law might not be so burdensome.

He also said that unlike many other states, Missouri residents don't have several options to prove they are legally in the country, but rather generally must rely on documents that cost money.

The judge also noted that there have not been major complaints of voter fraud since the law was changed after the 2000 election to require voters to show some identification at the polls. That law allows a variety of items to count, from a license to the voter card sent out by election authorities to a utility bill.

The attorney general's office, which defended the law, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Thor Hearne, an attorney allowed to intervene in the case to represent the law's sponsor, said he would consider appealing the decision if the state does not.

Staff writer Rudi Keller contributed to this report.

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