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story.lead_photo.caption This July 11, 2016 photo shows Judge Jon Beetem presiding at the bench during proceedings in Cole County Circuit Court. Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

A weeklong bench trial has begun to take in more evidence before a Cole County judge rules on a 2017 lawsuit challenging Missouri's voter ID law.

On June 8, 2017, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and the Missouri League of Women Voters, alleging the state couldn't enforce a new law requiring a voter to show a photo ID before getting a ballot because the General Assembly didn't appropriate enough money to pay the costs associated with implementing the new law.

On Jan. 2, 2018, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled the state was entitled to a judgment on the pleadings — meaning the plaintiffs had not submitted a case to take to a trial.

In October 2018, the Western District Court of Appeals ruled Beetem should take in more evidence before he rules on the lawsuit. This week's bench trial is to fulfill that requirement.

In November 2016, voters authorized legislators to pass a law that could include requiring a photo ID at the polling place. The law also allowed voters to show several other kinds of IDs — that have the voter's current address, but no photo — and still cast a regular ballot under certain conditions. It allowed a voter with no ID to cast a "provisional" ballot — that wouldn't be counted unless the voter showed a photo ID before the end of the election day, or the voter's signature on election day matched the signature on file in the election authority's office.

The law said people who wanted a non-driver's license — which is issued by the state Revenue Department and has the person's photograph on it — could get that license at no cost if it's to be used only for voting purposes. The law directed the state to reimburse the agencies for all costs of getting the non-driver's license.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU alleged the secretary of state would be unable to pay for the cost of the documents necessary for individuals to obtain the state's non-driver's license.

The secretary of state's office responded the lawsuit was filed too soon because the "plaintiffs have failed to allege actual costs of implementation," and the appropriations question couldn't be argued until after the state's business year was finished.

In a 19-page ruling written by Western District Court of Appeals Judge Mark Pfeiffer, the court noted the law "makes the enforceability of the identification requirements contingent on 'a sufficient appropriation,' not on 'sufficient implementation' of the statute by the Secretary of State or other agencies."

He ruled the issue raised in the lawsuit didn't have to wait for the state's "actual incurrence of costs to implement the statute, or the conclusion of the fiscal year to which the appropriations apply."

Beetem said the evidence will be examined this week and it will likely be several more weeks before he issues a final ruling in the case.

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