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Missouri Enacts Strict New Voter Rules and Will Switch to Caucuses

Missouri overhauled its election rules on Wednesday, enacting a voter identification law similar to one the state’s highest court blocked two years ago and doing away with its presidential primary in favor of a caucus system.

The new law, which Gov. Michael L. Parson signed at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, requires voters to present a photo ID when casting a regular or absentee ballot. Those without such documentation will be required to fill out a provisional ballot that would be segregated until they provide photo identification or their signature is matched to the one kept on file by election officials.

The voter identification rule was the latest instituted in a Republican-controlled state, and reflected the party’s continued mistrust of common voting practices, including the use of voting machines. It requires the use of hand-marked paper ballots statewide starting in 2023, with limited exceptions for certain touch-screen systems until the end of next year.

Among the other changes is a prohibition against the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots — a practice that many Republicans criticized during the 2020 presidential election — and replacing Missouri’s presidential primary, held in recent years in March, with a series of caucuses.

The proposal advanced in the spring from the Legislature, where its Republican sponsors have continued to cite unsubstantiated and nonspecific voter fraud claims — just as former President Donald J. Trump has done — as the impetus for the voter ID law.

The law will take effect on Aug. 28, in time for the November election but not until after Missouri holds its primaries on Aug. 2.

Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that led to a previous set of voter ID rules, but the state Supreme Court gutted those rules in 2020. The rules had stipulated that voters without the required ID had to fill out an affidavit or use provisional ballots until their identity could be validated.

The president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch this month to expect legal challenges to the new law, which the group said could disenfranchise voters of color and those who are young or older.

While paper ballots are already overwhelmingly used in Missouri, Republicans have sought to scale back the use of electronic voting equipment nationwide, spreading falsehoods that the devices were rigged during the 2020 presidential election.

The new law repealed provisions enacted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic that permitted mail and absentee voting in the 2020 general election, but Republicans compromised with Democrats to allow two weeks of no-excuse in-person absentee balloting. However, those ballots must be submitted at a local election office. Military and overseas voters will still be permitted to mail their ballots.

The law also makes it illegal for local election authorities to accept private donations in most circumstances.

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