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Missouri judge clarifies voter ID ruling ahead of key Senate contest

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri judge on Tuesday made clear that local election workers cannot enforce a core requirement in a new voter photo identification law, taking away the teeth of the law in advance of a marquee U.S. Senate election on Nov. 6.

At issue is a new law that had directed voters to present a valid photo ID or sign a sworn statement and present some other form of identification in order to cast a regular ballot.

Senior Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan earlier this month struck down the requirement that voters without proper photo ID sign a sworn statement.

But Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who supports a photo ID law, said the ruling caused “mass confusion” just weeks before the pivotal election between Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and her Republican rival, Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Ashcroft had said that’s because Callahan’s initial ruling directed “the state” not to require a sworn statement from voters without proper ID. But Ashcroft said enforcing that requirement was local election workers’ responsibility.

Callahan on Tuesday responded by clarifying that his judgment “applies to all persons who act in concert and participation with the Secretary of State and the State of Missouri in administering and certifying elections within the State of Missouri, including local election authorities.”

Ashcroft in a statement said he’s concerned that Callahan’s ruling “thwarted the clear desire of Missourians to secure their elections.”

“Today, a mere two weeks from the November 2018 mid-term election, Senior Judge Richard Callahan has eviscerated Missouri’s photo ID law as crafted by the state legislature,” Ashcroft said in a statement. “Somehow, while holding the law constitutional, Judge Callahan has prohibited the enforcement of the law for the upcoming election.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said in a statement that Callahan’s decision “provided needed clarity to local election officials.”

“The Missouri Secretary of State and others sowed confusion for voters this year,” he said. “We know the real threat to democracy is that not all eligible voters vote. The people should question when the government makes it harder for citizens to exercise this basic right.”