Missouri's voter photo ID requirement is unconstitutional and should be prohibited at all future elections, a 29-page lawsuit filed Wednesday argues.
"The Missouri Constitution guarantees that 'all elections shall be free and open; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage,'" the lawsuit began, citing the Constitution's Article I, Section 25.
"The Constitution also clearly defines voter qualifications," the lawsuit said: "'All citizens of the United States, including occupants of soldiers' and sailors' homes, over the age of eighteen who are residents of this state and of the political subdivision in which they offer to vote are entitled to vote at all elections by the people '
"In other words, by its plain terms, the Missouri Constitution creates a plain and positive right to vote for all Missouri residents who meet the qualifications established by Article VIII, Section 2."
The case was assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem.
No hearing dates have been set, yet.
The defendants are Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, in his official capacity, and the state of Missouri, as "the entity responsible for enforcement" of the law.
Mary Compton, spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley, told the News Tribune: "We have received the complaint and we intend to fully and fairly defend Missouri law."
Maura Browning, Ashcroft's spokeswoman, noted the secretary of state's office does not comment on ongoing lawsuits.
The lawsuit's plaintiffs include a group known as "Priorities USA," described as a nonprofit "voter-centric progressive advocacy and service organization (with a) mission to engage Americans in the progressive movement by running a permanent digital campaign to persuade and mobilize citizens around issues and elections that affect their lives."
Priorities USA was formed under the federal IRS regulations that allow it to keep secret the names of people who contribute to it — what some have called a "dark money" group.
The other plaintiff is Mildred Gutierrez, 70, of Lee's Summit — who "has been registered to vote in Missouri for over 40 years, regularly votes in statewide and local, municipal elections, and (who) has previously served as an Election Judge in Jackson County," the suit explained.
But in 2016, her failing eyesight prevented her from renewing her driver's license and she didn't get a non-driver's license.
So, when she voted in the Nov. 7, 2017, special election, she wasn't allowed to use other forms of identification and "was required to sign a sworn statement, under penalty of perjury, confirming her identity, affirming that she did not possess Photo ID, and attesting that she was required to present a form of Photo ID in order to vote," the lawsuit reported. "Ms. Gutierrez was also informed by election officials that she would not be permitted to vote in future elections unless she presented Photo ID."
After citing the constitutional provisions giving voters the entitlement to vote in all elections, the lawsuit argued, "Republican legislators in Missouri have, for more than a decade, attempted to make it harder for certain classes of voters to exercise their fundamental right to the franchise through successive attempts to enact laws that impose burdensome photo ID requirements.
"These laws represent impermissible attempts to unconstitutionally restrict the right to vote in this state, by adding unnecessary and irrelevant qualifications for voting that impose particularly significant burdens on precisely those voters who, because of their personal circumstances, will have the most difficulty in overcoming them."
The lawsuit acknowledges voters' November 2016 approval of a constitutional amendment, placed on the ballot by the Legislature, that says: "A person seeking to vote in person in public elections may be required by general law to identify himself or herself and verify his or her qualifications as a citizen of the United States of America and a resident of the state of Missouri by providing election officials with a form of identification, which may include valid government-issued photo identification. Exceptions to the identification requirement may also be provided for by general law."
Nearly 2.72 million Missouri voters approved that amendment, by a 63-percent to 37-percent majority.
But, the lawsuit argued, "The plain language of the Amendment does not authorize the General Assembly to demand that voters show Photo ID at the polls as the only means of verifying their qualifications. Instead, by its plain text, Amendment 6 simply permits the General Assembly to enact legislation that would require voters to verify that they have the qualifications that the Missouri Constitution established for voting."
The amendment added language to the Constitution, but "does not eliminate the express, constitutional right to vote set forth in Article I, Section 25," the lawsuit said, "nor does it purport to redefine the qualifications required to vote, which are established by Article VIII, Section 2, and the Constitution still guarantees Missourians the rights to due process and equal protection of the laws."
The law legislators passed as a companion to the amendment "violates these (constitutional) provisions by requiring voters to present one of several very narrow categories of Photo ID that many Missourians lack, thus imposing severe and unnecessary burdens on the right to vote that extend well beyond whatever limited authority Amendment 6 may have conveyed."
The lawsuit ends with an argument that Ashcroft and the state "have not advanced any compelling state interest that justifies the severe burdens imposed on voters who do not possess Photo ID. Thus, (the law) has deprived and will continue to deprive Missourians of rights secured to them by the Constitution, and will cause Plaintiffs irreparable injury unless (it) is" blocked.
Missourians already have voted under the provisions of the constitutional amendment and the companion state law, and Ashcroft reported few problems.
Unless the court blocks its continued enforcement, the law would be in effect during this year's Aug. 7 primary election and the Nov. 6 general election.