a woman appears to vote at a row of white voting booths along a yellow wall
Missourians will now be required to present a photo ID when voting at the polls in November. (File photo)

The latest attempt at passing a Missouri photo ID provision will go into effect at the end of August, after Gov. Mike Parson signed a sweeping election bill into law.

The new Missouri photo ID law won’t take effect until the end of August, so the changes don’t apply to Missouri’s Aug. 2 primary election. 

Besides the controversial photo ID requirement, the new law also permits two weeks of no-excuse, in-person absentee voting and will phase out the already limited use of electronic ballot marking devices, except for voters with disabilities who request to use the machines. 

Other changes include increased oversight from the secretary of state’s office over local election authorities. Once the law takes effect, the state’s top election official will be able to audit local voter rolls to ensure registration records are being properly maintained. The secretary of state’s office will also be able to conduct cybersecurity reviews of election systems with accredited companies every two years. 

How casting a ballot will change in Missouri

The biggest difference voters will see in the November election is the need to present a government-issued photo ID to the election judge. 

Before now, Missouri voters could use documents such as a voter notification card or a state-issued bill to establish their identity and residency. 

After the law goes into effect, voters who don’t have a photo ID when they go to cast a ballot will have the option to fill out a provisional ballot and affidavit, with their signature on the outside of the envelope. They can either return before the end of election day with an approved ID, or an election official can match the signature on the outside of the envelope to the signature on file with the state. 

If the signature does not match, the ballot won’t get opened and cast by the election official. 

A 2014 report from the secretary of state’s office found that in the 2012 presidential election, “fewer than 3 in 10 provisional ballots were counted. There were only five counties that counted more than half of their provisional ballots, and each of those counties counted just one ballot. On the other hand, there were 45 counties that counted 20 percent of their provisional ballots or fewer.” 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 35 states, including Kansas, have laws in place requesting or requiring voters to show some form of photo identification before voting. 

Lawmakers in Missouri have tried for years to pass a photo identification requirement, but multiple attempts have failed. In 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a photo ID bill that had passed the state legislature previously. 

Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, a Democrat from Kansas City and the chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement after Parson signed the bill that she expects concerned voters to bring forth legal challenges for this latest version of the photo ID provision. 

“Time and time again, we have seen photo voter ID bills approved by Republicans in the General Assembly, and time and time again, the Missouri Supreme Court has graciously informed them of that provision’s unconstitutionality,” Bland Manlove said in a statement. “The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus expects to see that provision challenged in the courts once again, and we also believe other parts of the bill could too.” 

A 2014 analysis by  then-Secretary of State Jason Kander argued that 220,000 Missourians would have been impacted by a similar photo identification proposal at that time. A later 2017 report from the secretary of state’s office found that around 137,000 registered voters in Missouri did not have a state-issued identification, as the Missouri Independent reported. An additional 140,000 voters had expired IDs.  

The NAACP challenged a previous voter ID provision and said it would also take this version to court. 

“We will work with the community to make sure the rights of Missouri voters are restored and everyone can have their vote counted,” said Nimrod Chapel Jr., the president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP. “The NAACP has long raised concerns about Missouri’s efforts to implement a discriminatory voter ID law, and it is one of the reasons we have issued a travel advisory for the state. Democracy in Missouri is not a safe place for black voters.”

Missouri voters will also soon be able to take advantage of two weeks of in-person, no-excuse absentee voting, which came as part of a compromise to pass the bill. Some Missourians will be able to mail in absentee ballots, such as those temporarily out of state or in the military. But the new law would prohibit someone from soliciting an absentee ballot application for someone else. 

Another change praised by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, is the removal of the presidential preference primary. Since primary delegates are not bound to the winner of the primary in the states, the secretary’s office argued that it was an unnecessary election expense. The new law changes the presidential nominating contest to a party-run primary. 

The bill also outlines a ban on ballot drop boxes, although they have historically never been widely used across the state. 

How election administration will change

The bill includes a number of tweaks to how Missouri’s elections are administered, starting from the way voters are registered.

The new law will now require someone who registers more than 10 voters for every two-year election cycle to register as an official voter registration solicitor. 

In an effort to minimize cybersecurity concerns, even though Ashcroft himself said the 2020 election was secure, each election authority will now have to allow cybersecurity audits of their systems every two years. In some counties, election authorities share IT departments with county administration. For the election boards that do not control their own IT departments, the counties that do must be willing to subject the election equipment to cybersecurity testing. 

The firm chosen for the cybersecurity testing must meet a number of criteria. Any local authority that does not allow the testing could risk losing some funding from the secretary’s office. 

The new law will allow the secretary of state’s office to perform audits of the county’s voter rolls at the office’s discretion, which some critics argue will lead to voters being removed from the rolls more frequently. 

As the voting changes were being discussed, local election officials expressed mixed reactions. 

“It’s a little bit concerning to me, the secretary of state wants the ability to audit everyone’s voter rolls and determine whether they’ve been kept up to date or not,” Chris Hershey, a top Platte County election official, told The Beacon in March. “But on the other hand, that kind of takes some of the responsibility off my shoulders.” 

Election officials will mostly be banned from using private grants to help with election administration, though the secretary of state’s office helped counties secure outside funding in 2020 to help make elections safer in the pandemic. A section of the bill appears to still allow some outside funding, but only if the amount allocated to election offices in an election year is less than it was in the previous election year. In that case, the secretary of state’s office can accept private money and distribute it to counties based on the number of registered voters in the jurisdiction. 

The law also says election authorities cannot  “receive or expend private moneys, excluding in-kind donations, for preparing, administering, or conducting an election, including registering voters.” In-kind donations include personal protective equipment, water or food for election authorities or judges. 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...