Left ID at home? Does affidavit make you commit perjury?

The fate of a key part of Missouri’s new voter photo identification law is now in the hands of state Supreme Court judges, who questioned state attorneys’ requests to at least spare parts of the provision.

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

But Senior Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan in 2018 struck down the requirement that voters without proper photo ID sign a sworn statement. He ruled that the affidavit was misleading.

During oral arguments before the state Supreme Court, Marc Elias, representing Priorities USA, said the affidavit discourages people from voting because they are subject to perjury. He pointed out what he considers flaws within the affidavit, line by line.

“That sentence says, ‘I do not possess a form of personal identification approved for voting.’ Well, what (does) possess mean in that sentence?” he asked. “Does that mean I have an ID, but I forgot it at home? At which point, I possess the ID and I can’t sign the affidavit, or does it mean I don’t have an ID at all?”

Elias said the Secretary of State’s office answered that “possess” means voters do not currently have the ID on them.

“But then we turn to the next sentence,” he said. “‘As a person who does not possess a form of identification approved for voting, I acknowledge I am able to receive free of charge ID.’ Well, that’s not true, if in fact, they have a driver’s license and they left it at home.”

The state argued that the affidavit is constitutional because it “accurately summarizes the statute” and has not kept anyone from voting.

“There is no individual voter who, while they were at the polls, read the affidavit and said, ‘I can’t sign this, I find it too confusing. I find it too contradictory,’” argued John Sauer of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. “Tens of thousands of voters had voted using Option 2 over multiple elections by that time.”

Sauer said if nothing else, the lower court judge went too far by completely striking the sworn-statement requirement. Instead, he argued that the Supreme Court should either trim out the problematic sections or allow the state’s Republican Secretary of State Jay Aschroft to rewrite it.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs who sued over the law and Supreme Court judges questioned whether a rewrite is allowed.

“There is no authority for that,” plaintiffs’ attorney Marc Elias said of the possibility for the Secretary of state to redraft the affidavit.

High court judges also questioned whether the law allows them to revamp the sworn statement, which lawmakers had outlined in the legislation.

“What you’re asking for is changing (the affidavit),” Judge Laura Denvir Stith told Sauer in court. “We have many cases that say we cannot rewrite the statute for the Legislature.”

The 2016 law was enacted when the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto of then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Voters in 2016 also approved a constitutional amendment intended to permit photo identification laws.

Voter photo ID requirements have been pushed by Republicans in numerous states as a means of preventing fraud. They have been opposed by Democrats who contend such laws can disenfranchise poor, elderly, disabled and minority voters who are less likely to have photo IDs.

Washington-based liberal advocacy group Priorities USA filed the lawsuit on behalf of some Missouri voters.

Associated Press contributed to this story

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