General Assembly Puts Early-Voting Proposal On Ballot That Would Block Rivals

May 14, 2014
Originally published on May 14, 2014 10:23 pm

The Missouri House has given final approval to an early-voting ballot proposal that includes a provision aimed at knocking out a more-generous rival proposal that also may be on the same ballot.

Opponents call the Republican-backed measure “a sham,’’ while backers say it’s a reasonable compromise.

The House voted 92-57 on Wednesday to put on the November ballot the GOP's proposal to allow early voting for any reason six days prior to the election. The Senate already had approved the proposed constitutional amendment. It does not require a signature from Gov. Jay Nixon because it is a ballot measure.

Under the proposal, the added voting hours would only be on business days, during daytime business hours, with no weekend or evening hours.

The ballot measure is far more restrictive than a rival early-voting initiative proposal, signed by 300,000 registered voters in the state, that now is under review by the secretary of state’s office. That proposal would allow early voting for six weeks – the time now allowed for absentee ballots – and would include evenings and weekends.

If the initiative clears the signature-review process, it also would be on the November ballot.

Under current law, if two proposals on the same topic are on the ballot, the measure that receives the most votes is the one that becomes law.

But backers of the General Assembly’s proposal are seeking to get around that law with a provision in their ballot measure that stipulates that the General Assembly proposal, if approved by voters, would supersede any other early-voting proposal – even if the rival gets more votes.

Sponsor Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said that rival proposals could get around that provision by including the same supremacy wording in their own ballot measure. But that’s not possible for the initiative-petition proposal, since its wording was approved months ago and it cannot be changed once the signatures have been collected and turned in.

Sean Nicholson with Progress Missouri, one of the groups backing the initiative-petition campaign, accused the legislators of trying to block voters from deciding which early-voting proposal they prefer.  “What GOP politicians in Jefferson City are trying to do to the 300,000 Missourians who signed petitions for a real early voting proposal is outrageous,” he said.

Backers of the initiative-petition proposal had yet to say whether they will challenge in court the General Assembly version’s supremacy clause. But a spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus, which opposed the General Assembly's version, said some legal opinions indicate that the supremacy clause can't be enforced.

During Wednesday’s brief debate, some legislative critics also voiced concern about another section of the GOP proposal that bars county election authorities from releasing lists of names of registered voters with first getting their consent. Campaigns generally obtain such lists for mailings and literature drops.

The General Assembly proposal also states that early voting would be instituted only if the state government foots the added cost. The initiative-petition proposal does not stipulate who would pay any additional costs for early voting, which has been a concern repeatedly voiced by local election authorities.

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