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Missouri's League of Women Voters say new election law infringes on freedom of speech

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The Missouri League of Women Voters and the Missouri NAACP are suing the state over a new elections law that requires a photo ID to vote. 

The two groups are asking a judge to block certain parts of the law before the November election. President of the Missouri League of Women Voters Marilyn McLeod said the new law infringes on their freedom of speech and their ability to engage with voters. 

“I think people will be quite confused and there will be limitations that might stop a lot of people from voting,” McLeod said.

Voters didn’t need a photo ID for the August primary, but in less than nine weeks, Missouri voters will need one to cast their ballot.  

“It’s either you have your government-issued photo ID or you vote provisionally,” said Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. 

The law allows people without a government-issued ID to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted if they return to the polling place later that day to show a photo ID or their signature can be verified by election officials.

“You’ll vote that ballot. You’ll put it in that provisional ballot envelope. You’ll seal it, take the pull tab and then you’ll fill out some information on the outside of the envelope, sign it which then your signature will be used to verify your identity if you don’t come back with an ID later that day,” Ashcroft said. 

He said those provisional ballots are checked and verified later on election night. Angie Dunlap is the president of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis. She said the photo ID provision is a solution to an imaginary problem. 

“What is left unsaid in the rhetoric from the secretary of state is all the way that a provisional ballot can be found insufficient and then not even counted,” Dunlap said. “People say that getting a state ID is easy, but it’s not that easy for every voter.”

The new law that went into effect on Aug. 28 was a big win for the GOP. Back in 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court blocked the secretary of state’s office from requiring a photo ID to vote. Ashcroft said he’s confident the courts will side with the state on this new law.

“There will be continued fighting about it,” Ashcroft said. “Unfortunately, I think there are people that make a living and earn their living suing and that’s just not the appropriate way to use our legal system.”

The League of Women voters said taking the matter to court is promising to fight for those without a voice. 

“At the league, we are not just fighting this battle for voters and the courts, we are making those extra efforts to go to those communities that are most likely to be impacted by this unfair, unjust law,” Dunlap said. 

Members of the league traveled to Jefferson City Wednesday to submit their signed voter registration solicitor forms. Under the law, those forms must be turned in to the secretary of state’s office if a person or group registers 10 or more people with voter registration.

“We’re here to show the secretary of state and the legislature that petty rules designed to suppress and marginalize communities will not work,” said the president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas City Anne Calvert. “We will keep registering voters.”

McLeod said the organization will no longer pay volunteers for mileage if they travel to help Missourians register because of possible legal ramifications. 

“The wording on the law is very vague and our concern is that this will limit a lot of the work that we do and obviously that impacts the number of people that we can reach,” McLeod said.

Court hearings are set for later this month in Jefferson City for both lawsuits. In another part of the new law, the state will allow for two weeks of no excuse absentee voting. Under current state law, Missourians can vote absentee before an election if they will be out of town, working the polls, have an illness, are incarcerated, or have a physical disability.

The secretary of state’s office can help Missourians receive a free photo ID by helping obtain the correct documents needed. The Department of Revenue provides one free non-driver license to Missourians at no charge. Click here for more information from the secretary of state’s website.

The legislation also prohibits touchscreen voting machines starting in 2024. A piece of the law that would go into effect in January 2023, would allow Missourians registering to vote to choose a party affiliation. If the voter does not select a party, he or she can be designated as “unaffiliated.” Under current law, voters do not have to choose the ballot of a political party on a primary day. Voters would be able to change their party affiliation by notifying their local election authority.

To register to vote or to check on your voter registration, visit the secretary of state’s website

This story originally aired on FOX 2 St. Louis. Watch the news segment below: