ST. LOUIS — Missouri voters recently won a historic voting rights victory. On Sept. 14 Judge Richard Callahan of the Circuit Court of Cole County in Jefferson City struck down section 115.427 of SB 1014, the Missouri Voter Protection Act (otherwise known as the photo ID law). Callahan called the law unconstitutional.

The state of Missouri, the secretary of state and all local election authorities were ordered by the court to cease implementation and enforcement of the law.

Callahan’s ruling was recently challenged and the Missouri Supreme Court will hear the case Oct. 4. If the high court overturns the ruling, thousands of voters will be left with only a few weeks to apply for a state-issued photo ID.

The disputed section of the law requires voters to show a federal- or state-issued photo ID at the polls. However, over 200,000 Missouri voters lack a state-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, including many people of color, the elderly and the disabled.

The law requires voters without a state-issued photo ID to provide proof of identity (e.g. a Social Security card), proof of U.S. citizenship (a birth certificate, passport or certificate of naturalization) and confirmation of residency (e.g. a utility bill or paycheck) in order to apply for one.

If a person’s name has changed because of marriage, divorce or for another reason, that person must also show proof of the change.

While state-issued photo IDs are free, many voters do not have birth certificates or Social Security cards, which cost money to obtain, and may have difficulty navigating state bureaucracies. Other voters, like the homeless, who have no address and usually no documentation, have to jump through even more hurdles in order to vote.

In his written decision, Callahan said the photo ID “constitutes a impermissible additional qualification to vote … it violates the prohibition on interference with the ‘free exercise of the right of suffrage’ and the requirement that ‘all elections shall be free and open’ … it requires the payment of money to vote … [and] it constitutes an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote.”

According to Denise Lieberman, an attorney with the Stetin Law Center, the law places an undue burden on voters by requiring numerous forms of federal or state IDs as well as unfair bureaucratic hurdles. Lieberman told the World the law “improperly disenfranchises voters, especially the poor, the elderly, the disabled, women and people of color. It amounts to a poll tax.”

Burdensome photo ID requirements are being fought in other states, including Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Michigan. In Arizona, Navajo Indians without government issued photo IDs, may be disenfranchised. In Georgia, a federal judge ruled that photo IDs are not required in the upcoming special elections, but may be required in November. In Indiana the law was upheld. And it is still to be decided if a photo ID law will be implemented in Michigan.

According to Lieberman, photo ID laws send a clear message. “This is a right-wing attempt to legally disenfranchise voters, especially working-class voters. Missouri is a testing ground. They want to dis-empower voters. ‘Don’t bother’: that’s their message.”

Other parts of the Missouri law were upheld. One section requires that all voter registration cards must be turned in seven days from completion. For mass voter registration organizations, like Missouri Progressive-Vote, this creates logistical and organizational nightmares.

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