Missouri saw its highest turnout for the November midterm election in 20 years, and is one of only 12 in the U.S. that doesn’t have a form of no-excuse absentee voting.
Kansas City Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur is looking to change that in the next legislative session. Her measure is one of several bills that were prefiled ahead of the 2019 legislative session to deal with the state’s election and initiative petition processes.
Arthur, who took office in September, said her impetus was waiting in a long line at her polling place in Clay County.
“The past few elections, I’ve stood in line for two hours, at least two hours,” Arthur told KCUR. “Many Missourians can’t do that and they shouldn’t have to.”
In contrast, Kansas voters in Wyandotte and Johnson were able to vote early either at certain polling places or through no-excuse absentee voting.
Arthur’s legislation has support from election officials from both parties in Clay County, who said they are doing what they can to help ease the crunch at the polls during high-turnout elections.
‘We’re always in favor of early voting,” said Patty Lamb, the county’s Republican election director. “That would help out quite a bit, Clay County is pretty large. We’re a pretty big jurisdiction now.”
Her counterpart, Democrat Tiffany Ellison, agreed that early voting would help with logistics in running elections.
“If we can spread out the amount of voters over a six-week period, instead of all of them going on Election Day, we would be in favor of that," Ellison said.
Similar bills regarding early voting have been filed in the past few legislative sessions, but none have gained traction.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said he would be opposed to full-scale early voting because of the expense, but would be open to no-excuse absentee voting.
“To put that requirement that they have to sign an affidavit saying that they’re not going to be in the county is probably an unnecessary burden,” he said. “So if people want to go into their Board of Elections and vote early, there’s not really a high cost to that and I would be fine with that.”
Other election-related bills
There’s a raft of other election-related legislation filed in advance of the session, which starts Jan. 9.
Koenig has prefiled an election bill that would allow Missouri to move to closed primaries; Blue Springs Republican Rep. Dan Stacy did the same for the House.
“It doesn’t force anybody to pick a party, but if you want to participate in the primary you would have to declare whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.“ Koenig said. “If you’re not a Republican, you shouldn’t participate in the Republican primary. The same as if you’re a Democrat.”
Stacy is looking to require voters to send a copy of a photo ID in with a mailed-in absentee ballot. He’s also proposing to have Missouri join Maine as the only states to use instant runoff, otherwise known as ranked-choice voting. In that system, voters list candidates in order of preference and candidates are eliminated until one receives the majority of votes.
Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, has filed a bill requiring the offices of governor and lieutenant be elected jointly, like the U.S. president and vice president. Illinois and Kansas are among the 26 states that currently follow the same model, according to the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association.
After a year that saw voters weigh in on matters like right to work, ethics reform and medical marijuana, some lawmakers also want to make changes to the initiative process.
A bill sponsored by Cierpiot would lower the amount of signatures required to place initiatives to on the ballot, but one filed by Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, would do the opposite — almost doubling the amount of signatures that are required.
Sater also would have voters decide whether to raise the threshold of passage for initiatives from 50 percent to a two-thirds majority.
He said he doesn’t want to scrap the initiative process, but it needs to be changed.
“We are a democratic republic, not a pure democracy,” Sater said. “By going where you have so many initiative petitions that are financed by both liberals and very right-wing people from out of state and bringing millions of dollars in to try and change our constitution, it’s something I’m very concerned about.”
And Stacy has proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow regulators to treat committees like Clean Missouri, the campaign behind ethics and redistricting measure Amendment 1, to be face the same campaign finance disclosure regulations as candidate committees.
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews