Testimony ends in voter ID lawsuit

Closing arguments will be Monday in the lawsuit challenging Missouri's current voter ID law, after the state presented its final witness Wednesday.

Cole County Senior Judge Richard Callahan is being asked to rule on the plaintiffs' claim that Missouri's new voter ID law conflicts with existing constitutional language that says people who are properly registered to vote "are entitled" to vote at all elections.

The new law went into effect July 1, 2017, after voters in November 2016 added language to the state Constitution saying lawmakers could pass a law specifying the kinds of identification a voter would need to show at the polls before casting a vote.

The state's expert witness - Jeffrey Milyo, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia - told Callahan he disagreed with the findings of the plaintiffs' expert witness, who testified Tuesday for nearly four hours.

Milyo said Kenneth Mayer - the University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor who testified Tuesday - "mainly focuses on potential costs from the bill, but doesn't take into consideration how the bill might reduce costs or increase benefits."

Mayer said Tuesday that voter ID laws generally cause fewer people to vote - although he acknowledged some studies show the laws increase voter turnout on Election Day.

But, Mayer said, those studies are not credible.

Milyo countered: "I think it's fair to say that he's fairly dismissive of potential benefits from the law. Dr. Mayer focuses on potential costs of the existing law, without really comparing what the costs were before."

Mayer said Tuesday his research shows voter ID laws "have a disproportionate effect on minorities (and) poor populations," and those "vulnerable populations are less likely to possess the most common forms of ID."

Milyo told the court Wednesday he thinks voter ID laws have "zero effect on turnout."

He also acknowledged studies show the voter ID requirements have more benefits than problems.

"There's no evidence that strict ID laws have dissuaded people from voting," he testified.

Milyo said Missouri's new law allows voters to present the same forms of identification allowed under the old law "to cast a regular ballot" - both photo ID and non-photo ID - but there were some changes in procedures.

Those changes include direct access to the ballot with the presentation of the specified photo ID forms, including driver's and non-driver's licenses, U.S. passports and passport cards, military IDs and some other government-issued IDs, as long as they show the voter's name and address.

People using a voter registration card without a photo or a utility bill, bank statement, a college student ID, or a paycheck can get a ballot if they sign an affidavit - under penalty of perjury - that they don't "possess" the specified ID but are the person registered to vote in their name.

Milyo noted the new law allows the use of a "provisional" ballot in state elections as well as elections where a federal office - Congress or the President - is on the ballot.

That provisional ballot will be counted if the voter returns to the polling place before the end of that Election Day and shows one of the required ID forms, or if the election officials determine the voter's signature on Election Day matches the signature on file in the election authority's office (county clerks in outstate Missouri).

Milyo testified the new requirements give Missouri what's known as a "strict, non-photo ID law - although there are differences in how people classify" different voter laws around the nation.

After earning his bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and his master's and doctorate degrees from Stanford University, Milyo told Callahan, he taught at Tufts University, then at the University of Chicago, before coming to MU.

His research career has focused "largely on the empirical evolution of changes in laws," he said, and how changes in state laws affect individual behavior.

Milyo's work has included research on voter ID laws, including the proposed 2006 Missouri law ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, Indiana's law that eventually was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and a Texas law.

Although he's produced research papers and been deposed in other cases, Milyo told Callahan on Wednesday: "This is my first time testifying in court."

Under questioning from Assistant Attorney General Ryan Bangert, Milyo said he was hired by the state to review Mayer's report for the plaintiffs in the case, to "use my expertise to comment on the quality of the arguments put forth by Dr. Mayer."

Mayer testified Tuesday that, while there "are examples of voter impersonation the key is that those examples are so infrequent that it is vanishingly rare."

Milyo disagreed, pointing to some studies where voters said they had not voted in an election - but election records show a vote was recorded in their name.

Those statistics could have been caused by mistakes in the local elections office, he said, but also could include voter impersonation fraud.

"It's a little bit surprising how large that is, given that Dr. Mayer said this would be something that was extremely rare," Milyo said.

Before Milyo's nearly four hours of testimony, Brandon Alexander - one of two elections directors in the secretary of state's office - said the state believes "every registered voter should be able to cast a vote" during an election and that includes making sure that local election officials know the importance of all three options under the new law.

"Even if they come with no proper forms of ID," he said, "they can vote - if they're a registered voter."

Plaintiffs' case included evidence they said showed some local elections officials' information, used in advertising or on websites, was incorrect or misleading.

Alexander said when the secretary of state's office learns of those kinds of problems - or of voters being turned away from the polls - the secretary's staff works with those officials to make sure they're using the correct information.

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