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JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered a blow to long-running Republican efforts to require photo identification at the polls.

In a 5-2 opinion written by Judge Mary R. Russell, the high court upheld a lower court's decision that forbade the secretary of state from publishing information indicating photo identification is required to vote.

It also said the Senior Cole County Judge Richard Callahan made the right decision when he jettisoned a requirement that people without photo IDs sign an affidavit attesting to their identities.

At issue is a 2016 decision by Missouri voters to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow lawmakers to create requirements for voters to identify themselves when voting at their polling place, including using photo IDs.

The resulting law directed voters to present a valid photo ID, or to sign a sworn statement and present some other form of identification in order to cast a regular ballot.

The affidavit also asked voters to certify that they knew Missouri had photo ID requirements, and that the voters did not possess a valid form of personal identification.

According to the opinion, one voter who presented a voter identification card and signed an affidavit in 2017 "testified the language of the affidavit was confusing and ambiguous because it required them to state they do not possess personal identification when they, in fact, did have their voter identification card."

Two voters "testified they would not sign the affidavit to vote in a future election," which is required for voters who don't bring a valid ID.

Maura Browning, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, said Tuesday afternoon the office was reviewing the court's decision. She did not immediately provide a comment.

Callahan threw out the sworn statement provision in 2018 following a lawsuit by Priorities USA, a Washington-based advocacy organization that called the requirements a “constitutional farce” that could disenfranchise 220,000 voters.

Priorities USA said the law creates undue burdens for voters who lack the required photo identification and could illegally suppress turnout, especially among so-called “vulnerable populations,” such as the elderly and minorities.

Callahan ruled the affidavit is contradictory and misleading and should no longer be used.

The state appealed, saying Callahan should have called for a rewrite of the affidavit, rather than tossing it completely out.

In October arguments before the court, Priorities USA attorney Marc Elias called on the judges to stick with Callahan’s decision.

“The affidavit is confusing, misleading,” Elias said.

Judges W. Brett Powell and Zel Fischer dissented. 

"While the affidavit requirement ... may be contradictory, the remedy offered by the principal opinion is improper," Powell wrote. "Furthermore, I disagree that the secretary of state should be enjoined from disseminating educational materials about the new voter identification law."

Jack Suntrup • 573-556-6184

@JackSuntrup on Twitter

jsuntrup@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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