Competing voting plans could appear on Missouri ballot

Sunday, April 13, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — An early voting initiative petition is prompting a Missouri lawmaker to propose another version that could lead to voters deciding between competing plans.

A House committee last week endorsed a constitutional amendment and companion legislation that would establish an early voting period. That comes as the Missouri Early Voting Fund is using professional petition circulators and volunteers to gather thousands of required signatures from registered voters in hopes of getting its proposal on this year's ballot.

The campaign treasurer for the initiative campaign is a former chief of staff for Attorney General Chris Koster.

The initiative petition would allow early voting for six weeks and require that officials accommodate early voting on Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections. The proposal in the legislature calls for nine days of early voting and depends upon lawmakers to approve funding.

Sponsoring Rep. Tony Dugger said he foresees several problems with the initiative petition, such as not providing money for local election officials and permitting voting on Sundays.

"I want to protect the interests of the county clerks because I was a county clerk and I see what they're getting ready to be hit with," said Dugger, R-Hartville. "But I also see that the voters of this state would like to have some early voting. I'm open to that as well."

Missourians currently can cast absentee ballots under limited circumstances, such as if they will be out of town on Election Day. The legislature referred a two-part constitutional amendment to the 2012 ballot to authorize voter photo ID and early voting laws, but it never appeared before voters because a judge struck down legislators' summary of the measure.

If Dugger's proposed constitutional amendment passes the House and Senate, it would appear on the November ballot unless Gov. Jay Nixon sets a different election date. If supporters of the initiative petition gather sufficient valid signatures, that measure will appear on the November ballot.

Separate votes would be taken on each proposal. Missouri law states that if conflicting constitutional amendments pass at the same election, the measure receiving the largest affirmative vote takes effect.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that while the Missouri legislature has refused to move on this for years now, suddenly it starts moving," said Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia.

This isn't the first time that Missouri lawmakers have proposed alternatives or changes to initiative petitions.

After voters passed new requirements for dog-breeders in 2010, the legislature revamped it the following year. Legislators similarly changed a school funding provision after voters in 2008 approved higher taxes on casinos to benefit education.

In 1994, the Democratic-controlled Missouri legislature approved campaign finance legislation. Two organizations were circulating petitions on the topic.

Lawmakers limited contributions to $250 for House races, $500 for the Senate and $1,000 for statewide candidates with adjustments for inflation. One initiative group dropped its plans when the legislature acted, but another organization continued. Voters approved tighter limits of $100 for the House, $200 for the Senate and $300 for governor. The voter-imposed limits were overturned in court, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld those from the legislature. Lawmakers have since repealed Missouri's campaign finance limits.

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Michael Williams April 13, 2014 | 8:00 p.m.

Yeah, those "professional petition circulators" are a real pain in the ass....they hit you going into the building, and coming back out.

I wouldn't sign their petition if it was to give me 100 bucks....for the annoyance factor alone.

"Hey dude, if I wanted to talk to you, I'd have said something. But, I didn' turn around and go bother someone else!"

As for these two particular "early voting" issues, I'll be voting NO on both. When Dugger says, "But I also see that the voters of this state would like to have some early voting," he isn't speaking for me.

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