JEFFERSON CITY — Opponents of a voter photo identification requirement have filed a lawsuit seeking to strike a proposed constitutional amendment from Missouri's 2012 ballot, contending that the wording of the summary that voters would see is misleading.
Rather than protect voters, as the legislatively approved ballot title states, the measure actually would restrict the constitutionally granted right to vote in elections, Denise Lieberman, an attorney for a group backing the lawsuit, said Thursday.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday and assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce, online court records show. It asks the judge to bar the measure from the ballot or, alternatively, to rewrite the summary presented to voters.
The Republican-led Legislature earlier this year passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a photo ID mandate and set parameters for a potential early voting period. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a separate bill that would have implemented the photo ID and early voting measures if voters adopt the constitutional amendment. Even so, lawmakers still could make another attempt to pass a law needed to carry out the constitutional amendment.
This is the Missouri's Legislature's second attempt in recent years to authorize a photo ID requirement.
In 2006, the state Supreme Court struck down a photo ID law signed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican. The court ruled the law infringed on the fundamental right to vote granted by the Missouri Constitution, taking particular issue with the cost of obtaining documents — such as a birth certificate or passport — needed to obtain a free state photo ID card.
The measure targeted for the 2012 ballot is intended to get around the court's concerns by amending the constitution to specifically allow for a law requiring voters to show "valid government-issued photo identification."
The ballot title approved by legislators asks voters: "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?"
The lawsuit contends that the summary "deceives and misleads voters" about the proposed constitutional amendment in several ways. Although the summary refers to it as the "Voter Protection Act," that wording never appears in the amendment, the lawsuit notes. The suit contends the summary also is misleading because lawmakers already have the authority to enact early voting laws. What the proposal actually does is place "strict limits on any advance voting" and allow lawmakers "to strictly limit the types of photo identification," according to the lawsuit.
"There's nothing that alerts voters to the fact that they are voting to curtail one of the core fundamental rights of their constitution," said Lieberman, a senior attorney for the Advancement Project voting rights group in St. Louis, which is one of several organizations involved in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit lists eight plaintiffs — including elderly, disabled, immigrant and student voters — who assert that they don't have valid government-issued photo IDs and would be burdened if they had to try to obtain the documents necessary to get a state identification card. Besides the Advancement Project, the lawsuit also lists attorneys from American Civil Liberties Union chapters in St. Louis and Kansas City and for the Washington-based Fair Elections Legal Network.
The defendants include the Republican leaders of the House and Senate, the measure's sponsor Sen. Bill Stouffer, and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who is Missouri's chief elections official.
Stouffer, who is running for secretary of state, said Thursday that the photo ID requirement is intended to ensure elections are secure and legitimate, thus building confidence in the results.
"You can't function in today's society without a photo ID, and I think using that at the ballot box is reasonable and rational," said Stouffer, R-Napton. "I don't think it's a barrier; I think it's a guarantee that you are who you say you are."
House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said his legal counsel would review the lawsuit.
"I've always felt that protecting the sanctity of the voting process is very important — it's important to the citizens of the state — and that's why we passed it overwhelmingly," Tilley said.