Missouri Democratic Party sues secretary of state

Wednesday, August 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:55 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Democratic Party has sued Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt, claiming voters who cast provisional ballots in the August primary at the wrong polling places should have had their votes counted anyway.

The party claims that state law, which Blunt enforces as the state’s chief elections official, conflicts with the federal Help America Vote Act.

Blunt is the Republican nominee for governor, facing Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill in November. Blunt’s campaign spokesman, John Hancock, suggested Tuesday that “the lawsuit has more to do with politics than voting rights.”

Provisional ballots are used when a voter’s eligibility cannot be determined when the person shows up to vote. Provisional ballots can be used only for federal and statewide candidates and issues, not local contests.

State law says that registered voters who cast provisional ballots at the wrong polling place cannot have their votes counted.

Federal law says people should be allowed to cast provisional ballots if they affirm they are registered voters in that jurisdiction, but also specifies that election officials should count such votes only if voters are eligible “under state law.”

The Democratic Party filed suit in federal court in Jefferson City on Monday. Other plaintiffs include three Kansas City residents who cast provisional ballots in the Democratic primary from the wrong polling places. Also listed as defendants are the state directors of elections and members of the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners.

The Democrats asked the court to block certification of the Aug. 3 election results until the lawsuit is resolved, to require election officials to count plaintiffs’ provisional ballots and to declare parts of the state law in violation of federal law and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The party argues that registered voters should be allowed to cast provisional ballots from anywhere in the jurisdiction where they are registered to vote, not just the polling place to which they are assigned.

Secretary of state spokeswoman Terri Durdaller defended the office’s application of the law.

“Missouri law promotes the full exercise of voting rights by directing voters to their proper polling place so they can vote a full ballot with confidence that it will be counted,” she said.

The Democratic Party contends the federal law requires provisional voting to be easy and accessible.

“The purpose of the Help America Vote Act is to improve access of the ballot box to all Americans, not just a select few,” according to a statement from the Democratic Party first attributed to party chairman Roger Wilson and later to executive director Corey Dillon.

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