Supporters pressing early voting initiative in Missouri

Monday, February 17, 2014 | 6:06 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Aided in part by Attorney General Chris Koster, supporters of an early-voting period in Missouri are gathering petition signatures in a quest to put the issue on the November ballot.

A campaign treasurer said Monday that organizers are using a mixture of professional petition circulators and volunteers and are committed to meeting a May 4 deadline to submit the thousands of required signatures from registered voters.

"If there is a spectrum of 1-10, with 10 being initiative efforts that are serious and plan to be on the ballot in 2014, we're a 10," said Matthew Dameron, the treasurer for the Missouri Early Voting Fund.

Dameron is a former chief of staff to Koster. He said the Democratic attorney general has provided advice in his political capacity to early-voting supporters about how to organize a statewide campaign.

Koster is not on the ballot in 2014 but is planning to run for governor in 2016, which is when the early voting period could take effect.

Missourians currently can cast absentee ballots only under limited circumstances, such as if they swear they will be unable to make it to the polls on Election Day because they will be out of town or are incapacitated by illness or disability.

The proposed constitutional amendment would create a no-excuse-needed early voting period that would begin six weeks before the general election. Local jurisdictions would have to allow mailed ballots or in-person voting at a central location, and jurisdictions with more than 100,000 registered voters also would have to set up at least one satellite early voting site.

For the first several weeks, early voting would occur during regular weekday business hours, according to the initiative. But for the final three weeks, offices also would have to accommodate early voting on Saturdays and Sundays.

A financial estimate prepared by the state auditor's office said local governments could face up to $2.5 million of startup costs for an early voting period, plus ongoing costs ranging from $834,000 to $9.9 million each election.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow no-excuse early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of Missouri's neighbors, Kentucky is the only other state without such a law.

"It's needed to make sure that voting is more convenient and more accessible for registered voters in Missouri," Dameron said.

Missouri's recent Democratic and Republican secretaries of state all have supported early voting proposals. But the measures have gotten bogged down in the Republican-led Legislature as they often have been linked with GOP efforts to require voters to show government-issued photo identification.

In 2011, the Legislature referred a two-part constitutional amendment to the 2012 ballot that would have authorized voter photo ID and early voting laws. But the measure never made it to voters, because a judge struck down the summary prepared by legislators.

Online Missouri Ethics Commission records show that the Missouri Early Voting Fund had raised $60,000 through Feb. 5, with two Kansas City-area personal injury law firms each donating $25,000 and a plumbers and pipefitters union in St. Louis giving $10,000.

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