While dust from the Nov. 4 election is still settling, Democratic state representatives-elect from the 23rd, 24th and 25th districts are already putting together an election reform package for the upcoming legislative session.
Stephen Webber, Chris Kelly and Mary Still attended the Democratic caucus last week and reflected on aspects of the recent election that they say need improvement.
“We thought, we need to see change, so we decided just to go ahead and put together an election reform package that we’ll be proposing,” Still said. “We’re all three united on this.”
While the new representatives focused on three policy areas they think are in need of attention, they have not settled on any details, Still said. They plan to look at existing proposals and talk to Democrats and Republicans to present a bipartisan, comprehensive election reform package.
The three issues that the representatives-elect intend to address are bringing early voting to Missouri, expanding the state’s No-Call List to include automated political calls (sometimes referred to as "robo calls") and restoring limits on contributions to political campaigns.
Measures for early voting could include allowing anyone to vote absentee and opening election headquarters and satellite polling places before election days to reduce lines and encourage higher turnout.
Missouri allows absentee voting six weeks before an election, but voters must explain why they can’t vote in person on Election Day.
Both Democratic and Republican politicians in Missouri have supported legislation to allow early voting. Gov. Matt Blunt supported legislation in 2005 to increase absentee voting, and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan said in 2004 that she favors early voting, and she has reiterated that support recently, saying she plans to ask the legislature to institute early voting in the next session.
Still admitted that while things went smoothly in Boone County during this past election, residents in other parts of Missouri waited four or five hours to vote, a problem that early voting may help fix.
The No-Call List was created in 2001 by Attorney General Jay Nixon, now the governor-elect, to block telemarketers from phoning people who didn't want their calls.
Numerous amendments to close loopholes and expand the jurisdiction of the list have been proposed and supported by Nixon, including a provision that would require the caller to disclose who is paying for the solicitation. While the idea of expanding the no-call list has received bipartisan support, it has never passed.
Kelly supports adding automated political calls to the No-Call List and requiring that callers identify the organization or campaign paying for it at the beginning of a call.
“I think that’s something that everyone can agree on,” he said, “that we should limit these robo calls.”
Webber thinks that of the three issues, the No-Call List provision is most likely to pass.
“The one that’s a no-brainer is the robo calls,” he said. “There’s no reason not to get that done right away.”
Limits on campaign contributions
Missouri voters in 1994 approved limits on how much individuals could contribute to campaigns, but the legislature lifted those limits in 2006. Although the state Supreme Court struck down the repeal in 2007 because of procedural issues, new legislation passed this year, lifting contribution limits as of Aug. 28.
Before this law took effect, limits had been set at $1,350 for statewide candidates, $675 for Senate candidates, and $325 for House candidates, per election. Although Missouri now enforces no limits for statewide candidates, contributions to presidential and congressional candidates are limited by the federal government.
Still said that Missourians overwhelmingly support limits on campaign contributions.
“It levels the playing field so all Missourians have a voice, and one campaign can’t just be hijacked and taken over by a multimillionaire who wants things done his way,” she said. “It’s a good government issue.”
Candidates from both parties have accepted large campaign contributions, Webber said. “There’s a million different specific examples.”
Republican opposition to contribution limits makes it unlikely the legislature will approve them this year, Webber said.
Whether the Columbia Democrats can push election reform through a House of Representatives where Republicans hold the majority remains to be seen. House Speaker-elect Ron Richard, R-Joplin, could not be reached for comment about whether he would be willing to make the issues a priority in 2009.
The legislative session begins at noon on Jan. 7.