Federal court says Missouri owes $1.1 million in legal fees for voter registration case

·2 min read

Missouri taxpayers must foot a more than $1 million legal bill in a lawsuit the state settled in 2019 over its voter registration practices, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The fees stem from a 2018 lawsuit filed against the state’s Department of Revenue and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft by the Kansas City and St. Louis chapters of the League of Women Voters and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, a Black trade unionists’ organization.

They alleged the state had violated federal voter registration laws by failing to update voter rolls with residents’ address changes, and by failing to provide voter registration information to some older residents who were applying for a driver’s license. Federal law requires states to provide that information at their divisions of motor vehicles.

A federal judge in Jefferson City ordered the state to send out thousands of registration forms ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Missouri ultimately settled the suit in November 2019, agreeing to update the Department of Revenue’s website so that residents who change their address are automatically offered to be taken to the Secretary of State’s website to update their voter registration.

The judge then awarded the plaintiffs more than $1.1 million in legal fees.

Ashcroft and the state appealed, arguing they had been charged excessively and for too many attorneys, but on Monday a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the fees.

Two months after the settlement Missouri suffered another court loss over voting laws. The state Supreme Court struck down portions of a 2016 voter ID law Ashcroft had championed, which required residents to vote with an approved photo ID like a state-issued driver’s license, vote with a non-photo ID and sign the affidavit under the penalty of perjury, or cast a provisional ballot.

But the court found the affidavit language “misleading” and “threatening” and essentially gutted the law.

Republican lawmakers this year tried to revive the requirements, proposing a bill that removed the disputed non-photo ID and affidavit option and eliminated the ability of voters to use documents such as Missouri college IDs, voter ID cards and other state-issued identification.

The state Senate failed to bring the bill up for debate, prompting calls for a special session which Ashcroft endorsed.

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