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Missouri’s Republican leaders have long placed restrictions on voting that have been shown to disproportionately impact Black and Latino citizens. Since the 2020 election and former President Donald Trump’s false claims that voter fraud led to his re-election loss, they’ve doubled down, passing a strict new photo ID requirement and making it a crime to help people vote through registration drives and other efforts. 

Earlier this year, the Missouri state legislature enacted HB 1878, a bill that prohibits anyone who helps residents register to vote from being paid. It also bans any effort to “solicit a voter” into requesting an absentee ballot. 

The League of Women Voters of Missouri and the Missouri Chapter of the NAACP have sued the state over those provisions and the new photo ID requirement.

The first lawsuit alleges that HB 1878 “chills, restricts, and hobbles Plaintiffs’ core political speech.” It claims four provisions in the bills violate the state’s constitution. 

“We want more people to vote, not less,” said Marilyn McLeod, the president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri. “We don’t want barriers that are unnecessary.”  

The lawsuit claims that the last provision, prohibiting organizers from telling voters to request an absentee ballot, is too vague. It could potentially lead to criminal charges against an organizer for simply explaining voting options for voters who won’t be present in their district on Election Day, or can’t make it to the polls. 

Portions of the law “harshly chill and restrict — and criminally sanction — commonplace community-based voter engagement,” states the lawsuit. 

Missouri’s absentee voter application form is readily found on the Secretary of State’s website. 

“It’s public information. Why should that be a problem? To me, it’s a free speech question,” said McLeod. “Why can we not help people find it?” 

HB 1878 also targets the types of identification voters need to bring with them to the polls. In November, voters will be required to show a non-expired, government-issued photo ID at the ballot box. Previously, Missouri voters could use a voter ID card, student ID or an expired state ID or driver’s license. 

About this series

This project looks at the state of voting access, voting rights and inequities in political representation in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

A research memo for Project Vote in 2015 said that 5% of whites, 10% of Latinos and 13% of Blacks did not have a government-issued photo ID. 

“This new law will disenfranchise Missourians, particularly people of color, people with limited income, rural Missourians, and voters with disabilities,” said Luz María Henríquez, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, in a statement about the lawsuits. “These unnecessary and burdensome legal obstacles put in place by Missouri’s lawmakers are unconstitutional.” 

The ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition filed the second lawsuit on behalf of the Missouri Chapter of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Missouri. 

Voters who don’t show an ID at the ballot box can still cast a provisional ballot. However, the vote will only count if the signature on the ballot matches the signature on the voter registration record. And unlike many states that have some kind of “ballot curing” process, Missouri offers no opportunity to contest a local official’s subjective decision about a signature match or fix mistakes. Their vote simply won’t be counted if a provisional or absentee ballot is rejected. 

One part of HB 1878 addresses an issue the Women’s League of Voters has long fought to achieve. The bill expanded early, in-person voting for all Missourians with no excuse requirement. Absentee voters submitting ballots via mail must submit an excuse, and some excuses require notarization. But absentee in-person voting is open to anyone. Early voters will be able to begin voting starting two weeks before Election Day. 

The early voting expansion comes with a provision, however. Written into HB1878 is a clause stating that if any of the expanded photo ID requirements are overturned, then early voting provision must be overturned as well. 

“We always decry the fact that the percentage of people who vote is very low,” said McLeod. “But it seems logical to me that if being able to vote was more convenient, there would be a higher percentage of people who would vote.” 

Missouri also has an early deadline to register to vote and does not offer same day voter registration. A voter must register before “normal closing time” on the fourth Wednesday preceding an election. This year, the deadline is Oct. 12 for the Nov. 8 general election. 

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Hayley Starshak is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune...