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Voting Rights Groups Push Missouri Lawmakers To Stop Legislation They Say Is Restrictive

 Jonathan Rand of Kansas City holds a sign during a rally of groups at the State Capitol looking to stop state legislation they say will hurt voters rights.
Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
Jonathan Rand of Kansas City holds a sign during a rally of groups at the State Capitol looking to stop state legislation they say will hurt voters rights.

The Missouri legislature is considering a number of proposals that would change how ballot initiatives get before voters and the requirements needed to vote.

JEFFERSON CITY — A broad coalition of groups including the League of Women Voters, the ACLU and Empower Missouri came to the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby against bills they say take away the rights of voters.

Lawmakers are considering proposals to require a two-thirds supermajority to pass ballot initiatives instead of a simple majority, shorten the period of time to gather signatures and double the number of signatures required to get initiatives on the ballot.

They say the process should have stricter requirements since the outcome changes the state constitution.

In recent years, Missouri voters have approved a wide array of ballot initiatives, including legalizing medical marijuana, increasing the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.

“Conservative lawmakers are just mad the people passed those initiatives,” said Jonathan Rand, a voter from Kansas City who came to the Capitol. “They don’t like the results. They just try to find a way to overturn them. But now, that’s too much trouble for them. So they are trying to gut the process itself.”

The activists point to the Missouri Constitution as specifically allowing for ballot initiatives and argue that any move to undermine that is illegal.

“Big-money special interests and lobbyists have taken over our political system,” said Bob Johnson, a former Republican state representative and senator from Lee’s Summit. “And now they want to severely limit the citizen initiative process because they know that it’s the only way for citizens to directly propose amendments that could reduce their power and influence.”

The groups also oppose proposed changes in Missouri’s voting laws. On Wednesday, a Senate committee heard testimony on legislation that would require Missouri voters to have a state-issued photo ID to vote.

Supporters say that anyone would be able to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day and prove their identity later and that the state provides for one no-cost ID to those who can’t afford one.

“We’ve had some photo ID requirement in this state since 2017,” said Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who testified in favor of the changes. “What we have proven is that we can make our elections more secure without turning away a single voter.”

But Christine Dragonette, director of social ministry at St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Louis, said she works with people who will be shut out of the process if this passes.

“People without those funds to get a photo ID or who maybe have gotten the free photo ID, which you can only get once, and their ID has expired, they would not be able to vote,” Dragonette said.

It’s unclear if any of the measures about ballot initiatives or changes to voter laws will pass before the end of the legislative session in two weeks. If any of it does get approved, the matter will likely end up in court.

“This legislation is unconstitutional and will be subject to a court challenge,” said Denise Lieberman, an attorney and director of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition. “And the bill for that challenge will be footed by the taxpayers of Missouri.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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