COLUMBIA - Incumbent Robin Carnahan drew sharp differences with two of her challengers during a secretary of state debate Friday in front of newspaper editors and publishers from around Missouri.
The debate in Columbia was sponsored by the Missouri Press Association and was among five debates of statewide candidates taking place during the group's annual convention.
Carnahan is a Democrat who favors expanding the use of absentee and mail-in ballots and opposes requirements that voters present state-issued photo identification at the polls.
Republican candidate Mitch Hubbard and Libertarian candidate Wes Upchurch oppose mail-in votes and advocate for stronger voter ID requirements.
Carnahan called herself a strong advocate of early voting, noting that 30 other states have it. She said mail-in voting could help reduce costs and make it easier for people to cast a ballot.
"For folks who need the convenience of this, there are some sensible ways to do it," Carnahan said.
But Hubbard expressed concern about the possibility of fraud if more people vote absentee or through the mail.
"I believe we need to go to the polls and actually cast the vote if we're able to," he said.
Upchurch also opposes statewide mail-in voting but said voters should not have to give a reason for voting absentee.
Carnahan has long been an opponent of requiring picture IDs at the polls. She said 240,000 eligible voters in Missouri do not have driver's licenses, including a 98-year-old man she said she met.
"This law would have disenfranchised this World War II veteran," she said.
Hubbard said photo IDs are necessary to help prevent fraud at the polls. He said the state should provide money to pay for IDs for seniors, the disabled and the poor who lack them.
"But we must make sure that fraud is not happening," Hubbard said.
Upchurch also favors the photo ID requirement but said it shouldn't have to be a state-issued identification. An employment badge or a college ID card should be acceptable, he said. Upchurch also believes the state should help the poor pay for IDs if they lack them.
Carnahan said she has tried to bring "common sense" to the secretary of state's office and worked to protect Missouri investors. She cited her office's involvement as the lead investigator into Wachovia Corp.'s handling of auction-rate securities. In August, she announced an $8.5 billion national settlement with the company.
Hubbard, of Fulton, a former state worker who is now a restaurant manager, said he would "restore fair elections" in Missouri. He noted that twice in the past year, courts have rebuked Carnahan's office for "insufficient and unfair" ballot language.
Upchurch, of Columbia, works in Internet design and business development. He said his IT skills would be valuable if elected secretary of state. He also stressed that as a Libertarian, he would come into office without bias toward the Republicans or the Democrats.
Constitution Party candidate Denise Neely was unable to attend the debate.