Curious Louis: What you need to know about Missouri's new voter ID law
June’s arrival heralded a new era for elections in Missouri, one in which voters are expected to show identification before filling out a ballot.
Any new law stirs up questions — especially when similar measures in other states make headlines again and again.
St. Louis Public Radio listeners and readers shared their questions about the new law through social media and Curious Louis.
We received nearly 20 questions and set out to answer the top ones ahead of upcoming elections in July and August.
Here are the top Curious Louis submitted questions about voter ID
What types of IDs will be accepted at my polling place?
Registered voters can bring one of four IDs to the polling place: A state-issued driver’s license, a state-issued non-driver’s license, a U.S. passport or a military ID.
Asked by Jim Nelson of south St. Louis
What if I don't have a state-issued ID and want to get one?
If you do not have a state-issued ID, the Secretary of State’s office will provide a state-issued non-driver’s license for free. There’s a website set up to walk voters through the process.
In order to get that ID, you’ll likely need a vital record — such as a birth certificate, marriage license, divorce decree, amended birth certificate or court order that changed your name — which you can get from the state of Missouri or whichever state holds that information for you.
If you already have a vital record, the state says voters should go to a local license office (the Department of Motor Vehicles office or a fee office) and ask for the non-driver’s license ID to vote.
Can I use anything other than a state-issued driver’s license, state-issued non-driver’s license, U.S. passport or a military ID to vote?
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said the law is called “photo ID” (also widely known as voter ID) “because it creates an instance where you use a government-issued photo ID to vote, and that is the preferred method to vote, is the way I would put it.”
But it’s not the only way. However, the other scenarios do come with extra steps.
If you do not have a government-issued ID as listed above, you can show other types of identification that have been accepted in previous elections. Then, you’ll be asked to sign a statement which, as Ashcroft explained, essentially says, “you understand you’re supposed to use a photo ID to vote, you don’t have one and you understand the state will provide one for free.”
Under that scenario, you can show one of these documents:
- Voter registration card
- ID from a Missouri university, college, vocational or technical school
- Utility bill
- Bank statement
- Government check
- Other government documentation showing your name and address
Now, about that statement you’ll be asked to sign. Ashcroft said the plan is to “collect all that information about people that signed those statements, and then we’re going to send you something and say: ‘Hey, we’d like to provide you with a free, government-issued photo ID so you can vote in the future. Would you like us to do that? Here’s how we can help you.’”
He also said that voters can choose the non-government ID route for as many elections as they want, but you’ll need to keep signing the statement, and, according to Ashcroft, “they're going to keep getting letters.”
What if I don't have a state-issued ID or the other forms of identification listed above?
If you don’t have the state-issued ID (either at all or on you when you go to the polls), or you don’t have the other documents that can be used in tandem with signing the statement, you’ll vote with a provisional ballot. The Secretary of State’s office says that provisional votes will count if:
- The voter’s signature matches the signature in the voter registry, or
- The voter returns to the polling place later to show a state-issued photo ID
Access to provisional ballots is being expanded so that they aren’t only available for federal elections (i.e. presidential, U.S. Senate races) but are there for all elections in Missouri under the new voter ID law.
Some voter ID critics, including state Rep. Joe Adams, a Democrat from University City, question whether provisional ballots actually get counted.
“I've never been sure if they've ever been counted in the historical past. I'm not saying they haven't, because I've not been in the counting room when they open up those envelopes and count them. So I don't know, but I've always worried about that,” he said.
State Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, asked Ashcroft about provisional ballots at a voter education event on June 9 in Wright City, where he was assured they’ll be counted.
As Spencer explained afterward: “... those ballots are counted, but they may not be in the tally that you see real quick on the internet. So, (some voters are) worried about provisional ballots being counted. All ballots will be counted. It just will happen before it's certified, maybe not that evening.”
What if my driver's license is expired? Can I still use it to vote?
No, it must be current.
Asked by Joseph DeLassus of St. Louis
My SAM's Club ID/membership card has a picture on it — does it count?
No, Sam’s Club, Costco or gym membership cards won’t work under any scenario.
Asked by Betty Bowersox
I used to show up to vote with only the card sent in the mail? Will that still work?
Jason Meyers, the question asker, is referring to a voter identification card, which many cities and counties send to voters ahead of elections. St. Louis County Director of Elections Eric Fey said that “people can bring the voter identification card from the county election board in our case, but they have to first try to present some form of photo ID.” (So, that’s a yes, Jason, at least under the second scenario.)
Asked by Jason Meyers of Chesterfield
What about mail-in ballots?
A voter who uses a mail-in absentee ballot or in-person absentee ballot is exempt from the ID requirement entirely, Secretary of State spokeswoman Maura Browning said. She added the voter ID requirements "apply to polling places only."
Asked by an anonymous Curious Louis participant
Will there be expanded hours, more weekend hours and/or additional employees at DMV offices now?
The Department of Revenue runs all 177 DMV and fee offices across the state. Office hours for all of them will remain the same “at this time,” agency spokeswoman Michelle Gleba said.
Asked by Trish Gunby of Manchester and Geraldine Proctor of St. Louis
How can I help individuals in their efforts to obtain all the necessary documents to obtain a valid voter ID?
It’s important to note that Missouri will pay for one vital record and help track it down.
“They are of course able (to help people get documents), if they want to do that entirely on their own,” Ashcroft said. “I would encourage them to call our office. We have people that have been trained, we've been working with the Department of Revenue, we've been working with vital records in other states. Call us. Let us get you that ID for your elderly friend or relative.”
Not everyone will want to do that. So, when it comes to assisting others, a few words of warning from people who’ve gone through the process: It can be complicated.
St. Francis Xavier Church in midtown St. Louis has helped low-income and homeless people obtain state-issued IDs for more than two decades. Christine Dragonette runs the program, which is based in the basement of the church office.
“ID requirements for getting a birth certificate vary across the board,” she said, “(T)here’s a couple of states that don’t require any documentation in order to receive a birth certificate, there are some states that require a non-expired photo ID in order to get a birth certificate, so you can see how there’s a little bit of a Catch-22 there, to say the least.”
And while getting the vital document and ID can be a one-day process, Dragonette noted there are worst-case scenarios, which she described as “a legal name change or amended birth certificate situation” that can take up to four to six months.
Adams, the state representative from University City has first-hand knowledge of how complicated it can get. His sister wanted to get a new state-issued ID for voting a few years ago. She was motivated to do so because because Missouri legislators kept putting voter ID implementation bills before then-Gov. Jay Nixon, who repeatedly vetoed them.
“You walk in and say, "'Hey, I want a birth certificate and here's who I am,’" and they say, "'Yeah, sure, prove it,’” Adams said, laughing. “Now, how do you prove that's you? Well, luckily I was there with her and I could prove who I was because I had my driver's license and my state ID. But I also got them access to the U.S. Census. Being that she was born prior to 1940, she was listed in the U.S. Census. And so I said, here look at this ... this is my sister, I swear.”
When it comes down to it, the chance to vote is motivation enough for some to reach out for help in getting an ID. James Phinney had been in and out of prisons and jails and living on the streets, mostly due to drugs. He recently found a place to stay — and stay clean — at a Salvation Army in St. Louis. He came to St. Francis Xavier to get a replacement ID, specifically so he could vote.
“It gives you a feeling that you’re part of the community, that you have an impact on who makes the decisions,” the 41-year-old said while waiting for a volunteer to make copies of his information. “You know, because sometimes we’re the ones that experience the results of many of the decisions that are made. It’s the only way we can make a difference.”
Asked by Mary Wildt of Wildwood
What issues have other states with voter IDs faced?
At least 33 states in the U.S. have some sort of voter ID law, many of which were instituted by Republican political leaders who say it protects against voter fraud. Civil and voting rights advocates have argued that widespread voter fraud has not been proved and that voter ID laws are meant to disenfranchise minority and elderly voters.
A 2016 study by three academics at the University of California San Diego looked at data from elections in 2006 to 2014 in states with voter ID laws. The researchers found that with strict voter ID laws, when voters can’t cast a regular ballot “if they cannot present appropriate identification,” turnout among minorities substantially dropped and fewer Democrats showed up to vote than Republicans. But less strict voter ID laws, like Missouri’s, in which an ID is requested but not technically required, had little negative effect on turnout.
Texas’ 2011 law, which was widely viewed as one of the strictest in the nation, was struck down in April by a federal judge who ruled it was intended to discriminate against minority voters, though Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a revised law. And the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of North Carolina’s voter ID, which a federal appeals court struck down as unconstitutional.
Will Missouri get sued over the law?
Yes. Eight days after the law took effect, the ACLU of Missouri and the Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court.
The suit, for which the Missouri chapters of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters are plaintiffs, alleges the Secretary of State’s office is not providing “mandated funding for voter education, free voter IDs and birth certificates and training of poll workers.”
When it comes to poll worker training, Fey, with St. Louis County, said that the Secretary of State’s office plans to go to individual local election offices to provide information. For the August elections in the county, Fey said workers will be trained a few weeks beforehand, adding: “We’ll do our very best to have our election judges up to date on what the ID requirements are and how they’re to process voters and so forth.”
Ashcroft’s office provided St. Louis Public Radio with an accounting of the $7,637.80 in federal money it spent in the current fiscal year on fliers and education purposes. And Ashcroft did spend a week on the road holding several voter-education meetings a day. But the $1.6 million in state money budgeted to pay for the free IDs and the underlying in-state or out-of-state documents doesn’t kick in until July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Follow Erica on Twitter: @ehunzinger