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Cole Co. judge strikes down Mo. voter ID ballot summary

By CHRIS BLANK

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge struck down the wording of a Republican-backed ballot measure about whether to add a voter ID requirement to the state constitution, finding it lacking and leaving it to lawmakers to revise.

Several legislators wasted no time getting started, saying Thursday they hoped to put the issue to voters this year.

The Republican-led Legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment last year that would have allowed separate legislation to require a photo ID and to establish an early voting period. Lawmakers wrote their own ballot summary, but Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce struck the summary down earlier this week after concluding the statement was unfair and insufficient.

House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller already has filed a new version and said Thursday that he expected lawmakers to move quickly on it. He said he thinks a photo ID requirement would be popular with voters.

“There is a real concern that their ballot is not being protected when they go to vote at the ballot boxes,” said Schoeller, R-Willard. “Overwhelmingly, voters understand that the best way to have their ballot be protected is having their identity be verified by photo ID.”

Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, attempted to introduce a new version of the proposed constitutional amendment Thursday but was prevented because the deadline had passed for new measures to be filed in the Senate.

The proposed ballot question Joyce rejected read: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to adopt the Voter Protection Act and allow the General Assembly to provide by general law for advance voting prior to election day, voter photo identification requirements, and voter requirements based on whether one appears to vote in person or by absentee ballot?”

Joyce took particular issues with the summary because the phrase “Voter Protection Act” never actually appears in the constitutional amendment. In addition, Joyce ruled that the Legislature already had authority to enact an early voting period and that the constitutional amendment would put time restrictions on that.

“Because significant changes are required here and policy choices may need to be made as to how to reallocate the words in a revised summary statement, the court chooses to vacate the summary statement and to provide the General Assembly an opportunity to revise it,” Joyce wrote in her ruling.

The Missouri attorney general’s office is responsible for defending the state against lawsuits and had argued that any problems in the summary easily could be fixed and were not sufficient to make the entire summary unfair. It also argued that mentioning the ability to create an early voting period is not a false description of the constitutional amendment. An attorney general’s office spokeswoman said it was reviewing the opinion and deciding whether to appeal.

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, whose office is responsible for overseeing elections, said the proposed constitutional amendment would have disenfranchised many and called the court ruling a “victory for voters’ rights.”

“I am pleased the judge saw through this deceptive attempt to trick Missourians into thinking this proposal is about passing a Voter Protection Act,” Carnahan said.

Missouri lawmakers have considered photo ID requirements for voters in recent years. Last year, the Legislature passed both the proposed constitutional amendment and separate legislation that would have enacted the photo ID requirement and early voting period. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the separate legislation.

Lawmakers in 2006 also passed a law creating a photo ID requirement that was signed by Republican then-Gov. Matt Blunt. However, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded the law violated the fundamental right to vote and struck it down.

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