Missouri panel publishes early voting recommendations

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | 9:53 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — The number of Missourians voting before Election Day could increase if the legislature acts on recommendations proposed Thursday by a special panel.

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander appointed the 11-member commission comprised of election officials, lawyers and former lawmakers Feb. 8 to review the state's election laws and recommend changes aimed at increasing early voting participation. Missourians already can vote early in-person, but only if they sign an affidavit saying they will not be in their home county on Election Day.

The commission's proposal would remove the affidavit and require local election authorities to create one polling place in their district where voters could cast ballots beginning six weeks before an election.

For November presidential elections, authorities of voting districts with more than 175,000 registered voters would be required to open additional polling places for early voting. These "satellite locations" would need to be open four hours per day for a minimum of 14 days before the election.

Opening additional polling places before an election could be a financial burden for local election authorities, which is why the commission is asking the state to pick up the tab for increased early voting options.

"We're hopeful the commission's recommendations to provide a convenient early-voting program, which would be fully funded by the state, will be a well-received proposal," said Republican panel member and Carroll County clerk Peggy McGaugh in a written statement from Kander's office.

The legislature would need to sign off on the proposal to remove the current affidavit requirement for early voting. It would also need to appropriate money for the increased cost, although the Republican-led legislature may not be amenable to voting proposals that will cost the state money.

Early voting is not a new issue for Missouri lawmakers. In 2011, the legislature passed a bill that established a roughly two-week-long early-voting period. But it was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon because it included a requirement that voters show photo identification before casting a ballot, a measure Nixon and most Democrats oppose.

Since the veto, Democratic lawmakers have been pushing to pass early voting separate from the photo ID requirement. Earlier this month, a Senate committee held a hearing on two measures that would allow polling places to open two weeks prior to an election. The panel has yet to vote on either bill.

Kander's early voting panel also wants to move Missouri to a "no excuse" absentee voting system for mailed ballots.

Under current law, voters can only cast ballots by mail if they meet certain conditions, such as being absent from their home county, having a disability or religious objections. The panel's plan would allow mail-in ballots to any registered voter. The state would also pick up the cost if mailed-in ballots increased due to the change.

Missouri would become the 33rd state to adopt some form of early voting if the commission's proposals are enacted.

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