Civil Rights Groups Sue Missouri Officials Over “Deceptive and Misleading” Voter ID Ballot InitiativeRelease Date: July 6, 2011, 8:00 pm
First-Ever Challenge to a Photo ID Constitutional Amendment Filed on Behalf of the Elderly, People with Disabilities, Racial Minorities, and Students Who Face Loss of Voting Rights
ST. LOUIS, MO -- Advancement Project, the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri and the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri today announced a legal challenge to a ballot proposal to amend the state constitution’s voting requirements, saying that the ballot language misleads voters and if passed will restrict the voting rights of Missourians, including the elderly, people with disabilities, and students, among others.
The ballot initiative, SJR2, slated to be placed on the ballot for November 2012, was passed by the legislature in May in an attempt to circumvent the Missouri Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling that restrictive photo ID voting laws are unconstitutional.
“I cannot imagine anything more cynical and shameful than using the voting process itself to trick voters into giving up their rights,” said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney for Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that works to eliminate barriers to voting and has been fighting photo ID laws across the country. “Just as the Missouri Supreme Court rejected Missouri’s photo ID law as a ‘heavy and substantial burden’ on voting rights, the court should reject this deceptive initiative. It does not make clear to voters that they will be giving up a fundamental right.”
The lawsuit – the first-ever challenge to a constitutional amendment on photo ID laws and the first lawsuit in the nation filed challenging the rash of photo ID proposals introduced in states across the country this year– was filed on Wednesday and names eight Missouri voters as plaintiffs. Among them are:
Two elderly women – 90 and 86 – who no longer drive and would have great physical and financial difficulty in obtaining the proper ID documents;
- A 43-year-old former musician who performed with Parliament Funkadelic, now stricken with multiple sclerosis and confined to a wheelchair, whose ID has expired and for whom obtaining new state identification would be both physically and financially difficult;
- A 43-year-old woman on disability due to a severe accident for whom obtaining new state identification would be a physical and financial hardship;
- A 35-year-old naturalized citizen who has had difficulty renewing her driver’s license after encountering problems when presenting her Russian birth certificate;
- A former school board member who won’t be able to renew her ID because the name on her birth certificate is not the name under which she is registered to vote and whose hand tremor could result in rejection at the polls if her signature does not match up; and
- A local college student and a recent graduate, whose out-of-state and student IDs, currently accepted for voting, could no longer be valid if the ballot initiative succeeds.
These individuals represent the many thousands of Missouri voters who could lose their right to vote under the restrictive photo ID proposal, according to Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “We should ensure that every eligible voter is allowed to vote, not construct barriers that prevent registered voters from having their ballots counted,” he said.
Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Elections Legal Network, a non-partisan network of election attorneys, added: “The Missouri Legislature claims the proposed amendment would ‘protect’ voters, but in reality, it would weaken the constitutional protections of the right to vote. Missourians deserve a ballot title that fairly and honestly summarizes what they are being asked to vote on.”
Over 230,000 Missouri registered voters do not have a current Missouri driver’s license. African Americans, seniors, people with disabilities, the working poor, and students are twice as likely to lack such ID. Further, the cost of implementing the legislature’s photo ID proposal would run well over $20 million, according to recent estimates – a price tag the people of Missouri can ill afford in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis. The Missouri initiative was among stringent photo ID proposals introduced in legislatures in more than 30 states in 2011. See the Fair Elections Legal Network’s blog for updates on state legislation. Companion legislation that would have implemented strict photo ID requirements in Missouri was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon on June 17.
The lawsuit asks the court to block the initiative from appearing on the November 2012 ballot because it “deceives and misleads voters about what the amendment would and would not do and thus is neither true nor impartial, but instead likely to create prejudice in favor of the proposed measure.”
The case is Aziz et al. v. Mayer et al., Case no. 11AC-CC00439, filed in Cole County Circuit Court and pending before Judge Patricia S. Joyce. The lawsuit names as defendants Senator Robert N. Mayer, Representative Steven Tilley, Senator Bill Stouffer, and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.
The lawsuit is online at: http://fairelectionsnetwork.com/_data/n_0001/resources/live/Petition%20-%20FINAL.pdf
The attorneys in the case are Tony Rothert and Grant Doty of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Douglas Bonney of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, Denise Lieberman of Advancement Project, and Ben Hovland of the Fair Elections Legal Network.
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