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Election day in Jefferson County

Jefferson County voter Dennis Frenzel cast his votes as other voters fill the booths during the general election Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 at the Arnold Recreation Center in Arnold. Among the high-profile races in the county is the race for Missouri State Senate in District 22, pitting Republican Paul Weiland against Democrat Jeff Roorda. Photo by Sid Hastings

JEFFERSON CITY — In a move that could keep immigration front and center as a political issue in the 2020 election, Missouri is among a handful of states where efforts are underway to change the state constitution to say that only United States citizens may vote in elections.

Although state law already explicitly says that only United States citizens may register to vote in Missouri, attorney Charles Hurth has filed a proposed ballot initiative asking voters in 2020 to make a simple wording change in the constitution.

Rather than saying “all citizens” over the age of 18 are entitled to vote, it would say “only citizens” of the U.S. can vote.

The amendment was filed July 18 and is currently in the first stage of whether it will be allowed to be circulated for signatures.

Hurth, a lawyer from Union, is working on behalf of a national group helmed by former Missouri state Sen. John Loudon, who represented Chesterfield in the Legislature for 14 years.

The Washington Post reported Monday that organizers of a similar effort in Florida have collected nearly twice the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot in the Sunshine State next year.

Like Missouri, the proposed change in Florida appears minor, altering the constitution from “every” citizen may vote to “only” a citizen may vote.

Loudon, who heads up Florida Citizen Voters, had been an insurance broker before he was term-limited out of the Legislature in 2008. He became a lobbyist, but moved to Alabama in 2011, then California and now Florida.

His wife, Gina, is a talk-show host with ties to President Donald Trump, who has made immigration the focal point of his first term in office.

Gina Loudon also has written a book called “Mad Politics: Keeping Your Sanity in a World Gone Crazy.”

In an interview last year, she said, “My book actually uses science and real data and true psychological theory to explain why it is quite possible that this president is the most sound-minded person to ever occupy the White House.”

John Loudon told the Post-Dispatch Tuesday that the change is needed because other states with similar language are giving legal voting rights to noncitizens.

In San Francisco, voters approved a referendum allowing noncitizens to vote in certain elections in 2016. A handful of municipalities in Maryland also allow noncitizens to vote.

It is not clear how the Missouri effort will be financed.

In February, a political action committee called Missouri Citizen Voters was formed. Thus far, it has not reported any contributions.

Loudon said Tuesday he was on a fundraising mission in Montana.

“We have funders all across the country,” Loudon said via a text message.

Along with Florida and Missouri, operatives are trying to change state constitutions or laws in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia, the Washington Post reported.

North Dakota voters approved a citizen-only voting amendment last year.

If the petition is approved for circulation, supporters would need to collect signatures from at least 8% of the voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts totaling 160,199 signatures.

Note: This story was updated July 24, 2019 to correct percentage of voter signatures needed to be placed on ballot.

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Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch