JEFFERSON CITY — The Republican-controlled Missouri House endorsed a pair of measures Wednesday that would expand early voting, though Democratic critics called it a "sham" that could circumvent a separate voting initiative that would go further.
Missouri residents currently can cast absentee ballots under limited circumstances, including if they will be out of town on Election Day.
The proposal that won first-round approval Wednesday would send a constitutional amendment to the ballot allowing early voting for nine days and ending the week before the election. Companion legislation would call for polls to be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday for four hours.
Separately, the Missouri Early Voting Fund is attempting to gather thousands of required signatures from registered voters in hopes of getting its proposal on this year's ballot. That measure would allow early voting for six weeks and require officials accommodate early voting on Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections.
A former chief of staff for Attorney General Chris Koster is the campaign's treasurer, and the group is using professional petition circulators and volunteers to obtain signatures.
Some Democratic lawmakers said a meaningful early voting period would be longer than the House's proposal. They said Sundays have been the most popular day for early voting in other states.
Rep. Randy Dunn said politics are at play.
"This is a sham. It is an attempt to trick the voters into thinking they're getting something they are not," said Dunn, D-Kansas City.
Rep. Tony Dugger, who is sponsoring the House proposal, said opening polls on Sunday would mean requiring many state and local election officials to be working that day.
"I don't think Sunday is a good day to be voting," said Dugger, R-Hartville.
The House's constitutional amendment and companion bill require another vote before moving to the state Senate. The bill would go to Gov. Jay Nixon if it wins final legislative approval and the constitutional amendment would go on the ballot. It would appear on the November ballot unless Nixon sets a different election date. If supporters of the initiative petition gather sufficient valid signatures, that measure will appear on the November ballot.
Missouri law states that if conflicting constitutional amendments pass at the same election, the measure receiving the largest affirmative vote takes effect.
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.