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Early voting proposal draws opposition from Missouri elections official

Early voting proposal draws opposition from Missouri elections official

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JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander wants to make it easier for people to vote before Election Day. But he opposes Amendment 6, the advance voting proposal that the Legislature placed on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot.

Kander, the state’s chief elections official, said in an interview Monday that the proposed constitutional amendment would set up a confusing system of on-again, off-again voting, cost the state $2 million and jeopardize the security of the ballot box.

“I’m a huge proponent of early voting, but I can’t support changing the constitution in a way that will require us to go back and fix it almost immediately,” said Kander, a Democrat.

Under current Missouri law, people can cast absentee ballots for six weeks before an election only if they state that they will be unable to go to the polls on election day, because of absence from the area or another eligible reason.

If Amendment 6 passes, Missourians could vote in person or by mail for six business days ending the Wednesday before a general election. No reason would have to be given. The early voting period would not include any Saturdays or Sundays.

Kander described the early voting period thusly: “You’d have three days to vote, then two days where you couldn’t vote, then three days where you could vote, then five days where you couldn’t vote, then one final election day when you could.”

Throw in the fact that absentee voters and early voters would be treated differently, with some being turned away and some allowed to vote, depending on the day, and “that’s not fair to voters, it’s not fair to local election authorities,” Kander said. “It will lead to confusion among voters, political campaigns and local election authorities while costing the state up to $2 million.”

Having different deadlines and procedures for absentee voting and early voting also could make it hard for authorities to police election fraud, such as attempts to vote multiple times, Kander said.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, handled Amendment 6 in the Senate. He said Monday that adding six days of voting was “a very responsible way to handle early voting and still allow people the flexibility they’d like to have.”

Kraus has announced that he plans to run for secretary of state in 2016, so the early voting issue provides a preview of his potential faceoff with Kander, who intends to seek re-election.

Kraus said he opposed making the early voting period as long as the six-week absentee voting period, as Kander has proposed. Six weeks before the election, voters may not have heard the candidates’ messages yet, Kraus said.

“The (county) clerks indicated to us, ‘I had people vote absentee and then they said, ‘Hey, I want my ballot back. I want to change my vote.’ So that’s kept to a minimum” with six days of early voting, Kraus said.

Critics have said that making the early voting period contingent on funding by the Legislature would let legislators pick and choose the elections in which early voting was used.

But Kraus said the Legislature would fund the law if it passed, just as legislators fund all general elections. He said it was more cost-efficient than allowing six weeks of early voting. Kander disputed that, saying his proposal to allow six weeks would have kept costs down by not requiring smaller counties to have satellite voting locations.

Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican, came up with the $2 million price tag for the one-time startup costs of Kraus’ amendment. Schweich estimated the state also would owe at least $100,000 per election, mainly to pay for two election judges — one from each major political party — at county election offices during the six days of early voting.

At least 33 states and the District of Columbia allow eligible residents to vote in person during a designated period before the election without stating a reason, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

On his first day in office in January 2013, Kander appointed an early-voting commission. Later, he supported its recommendations, which included allowing mail-in absentee voting without an excuse and allowing early voting for six weeks before an election at central voting locations in each county.

Democrats have argued that states should make voting more convenient for people who might have trouble getting to the polls between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on election day.

Republicans, who control the Legislature, have said that lengthy early voting periods are costly and primarily help Democrats turn out their base in urban areas.

“It’s like counting one team’s baskets during warm-ups and the other team’s baskets after the game starts,” said Aaron Baker, a Republican consultant and spokesman for a committee that supports the limited early voting period in Amendment 6.

Republican legislators crafted the amendment as an alternative to a much broader early voting proposal that was floated in an initiative petition. However, that initiative collapsed last summer when the secretary of state determined it lacked adequate signatures.

With the initiative knocked off the ballot, Amendment 6 has received little attention.

Axiom Strategies LLC of Kansas City had set up a political action committee called the Free and Fair Election Fund last spring to oppose the broader initiative. Now, the firm is running a low-profile campaign in favor of Amendment 6.

Baker, who works at Axiom, said he was “just trying to answer questions” about the amendment, though the fund also might finance a late spate of television advertising. At last report, the committee had collected $110,000 and spent about $47,000, mostly for legal fees and petition signature review.

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Virginia Young is the Jefferson City bureau chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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