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Missouri lawmakers send early voting proposal to ballot

Missouri lawmakers send early voting proposal to ballot

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JEFFERSON CITY • A measure to allow six business days of early voting per election in Missouri will appear on the November ballot.

The Missouri House approved the plan on Wednesday, a day after the Senate passed it. The measure has been criticized by Democrats as “sham early voting” meant to supersede a broader proposal that backers are trying to place on the ballot through a petition drive. That measure would mandate six weeks of early voting, including weekends. Backers submitted signatures to the Secretary of State on May 4 and are awaiting word on whether it, too, will be on the November ballot.

If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature allows for voting for six days by mail or in-person during regular business hours. Weekends are specifically excluded, and the early voting period ends on the Wednesday before the election.

Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, sponsored the measure. He said it provided for early voting in a way that would not place an undue burden on local election authorities.

The Legislature’s amendment would rely on the state’s appropriation process to allocate funds to compensate local election offices for early voting costs. The Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities had pushed for full state funding, citing the high potential costs that could be incurred.

Lara Granich, director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, which supported the petition effort, said the legislative proposal would not help people who were unable to get to the polls during the workday.

“It’s clearly an attempt to restrict early voting,” Granich said. “If you’re juggling two jobs and taking care of a family, this does nothing to help you vote.”

The petition-backed version calls for satellite voting offices for larger counties such as St. Louis, with one central location for the first 100,000 and an additional location for each 50,000 additional residents. By contrast, the Legislature’s version limits early voting to the central election authority’s office.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, handled the proposal in the Senate and dismissed the idea that the intent was to block the citizen initiative petition for early voting.

“We’re trying to get early voting at a reasonable cost,” Kraus said.

Democrats in the Senate declined to filibuster the proposal after a late-night deal brokered with Republicans. In exchange for Democrats’ sitting down on an abortion waiting period and early voting, Republicans agreed not to bring up voter photo identification or a bill requiring public-sector unions to get annual written authorization to deduct dues or fees from paychecks.

If both early voting proposals appear on the ballot and get a majority, state law provides that the one with the most votes would take precedence. The Secretary of State’s office has until Aug. 5 to certify whether the petition has enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.

The bill is HJR 90.

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