OREGON COUNTY -- Oregon County voters who will be going to the polls to cast their vote in the Nov. 7 general election will not be required to show a photo ID as previous announced.
County Clerk Gary Hensley said his office received word Sept. 14 that a state judge had struck down Missouri's new voter identification law Thursday as an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote.
State Rep. Mike Dethrow said the bill was passed by the Missouri General Assembly May 12, 2006.
"The bill was passed in an effort to combat voter fraud, which has been a problem in urban areas of the state especially in St. Louis. We haven't seen that problem in rural areas like Oregon County," Dethrow said.
Dethrow said he voted for the law. "I voted for it to protect everyone's constitutional right to vote in fair and honest elections," he said.
Cole County Judge Richard Callahan's ruling bars photo ID requirements from being enforced, calling it a burden to women and the poor.
The ruling sent to Hensley's Alton office at the courthouse said those whose names have changed, such as some married women, also must provide documents showing those changes. The judge acknowledged that providing an ID to vote would be free, but said paperwork has a cost, which he called unacceptable.
"While a license to drive may be just that, a license and not a right, the right to vote is also just that, a right and not a license," Judge Callahan wrote.
This suits Hensley, who serves as chief elections official in the county. He went on the record in mid-June, soon after Gov. Matt Blunt signed SB 1014 into law, as opposing the new law.
He said he had heard at the Missouri County Clerks Association meeting in Jefferson City last August that the issue was before a judge, and he is not surprised at the judge's ruling.
Hensley said he is not against some type of photo identification.
"This law might have been needed in large cities. It was not necessary in a small county like Oregon County where there are 6,500 registered voters and the same election judges work the polls every election," he said.
He said he and other county clerks from small counties across the state feared the law would keep some voters from the polls this November.
"We have a lot of elderly voters in the county. Many elderly women in Oregon County who do not have a driver's license do not have a photo ID. This was another burden pushed on our elderly," he said.
A news release for Secretary of State Robin Carnahans office agreed with what Hensley said. "I am pleased with Judge Callahan's ruling to stop the photo ID law, signed in June by Gov. Blunt, from going into effect for the November election. This ruling affirms my concern that the law clearly jeopardized the constitutional voting rights of many Missourians," Carnahan said.
She added that she is Missouri's chief elections official and it is her job to ensure fair elections, and elections cannot be fair if eligible voters are not allowed to vote.
Hensley said in the last two years there have been several new laws and petitions filed in the state regarding election and voting issues
"This week we are seven weeks away from the general election, and because of so many new laws and rulings that have changed those laws, election officials across the state, including myself, are having a difficult time determining what should be on the ballots," Hensley said.
He said he hopes the recent voter law change does not keep voters in Oregon County from voting this November. Hensley said he urges all registered voters in the county to bring their voter ID cards to the polls and exercise their right to vote on Nov. 7 in the general election.