Early votes may come to Missouri

Restrictions on absentee ballots may be lifted to increase voting.
Thursday, January 20, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:14 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation that would remove barriers to absentee voting in Missouri won the endorsement of Gov. Matt Blunt Wednesday.

Blunt, a former secretary of state, declared at a news conference his support for the legislation, which would extend the option of voting before Election Day to all Missouri voters. In the past, absentee ballots were reserved for those unable to make the trip to their polling place. Several states allowed unrestricted early voting in the November 2004 general election.

Blunt acknowledged that loosening standards in Missouri might create the potential for fraud but said opening up the process would be an inexpensive way to increase voter participation.

“Anytime you expand access, you’re balancing,” Blunt said. “I think this is a reasonable balance.”

The move drew immediate support from Rep. Harold Selby, D-Cedar Hill. Selby has served on the House election committee and said he has reapplied this session.

“I think it opens up access to voters of both parties, and that’s what it’s about,” Selby said. “The other thing this is going to do is that it’s going to take some of that crowd away on voting day and maybe those lines won’t be so long.”

Under the proposed legislation, any voter would be able to cast an absentee ballot during the six-week period before an election. In a typical election season, that would allow voters to cast ballots before candidates debate in top races.

The change is expected to greatly boost the number of absentee ballots cast. The burden for managing the increase would fall on county clerks, who are responsible for tallying votes.

But the strain should be manageable, said Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, a former county clerk. He plans to introduce the governor’s desired legislation.

“Each office will have to accommodate itself,” Deeken said. “You may have to put some help on in your office.”

The legislation also would remove the need for absentee ballots to be notarized.

Upon introduction, the bill must work its way through the committee and win approval from both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly before Blunt could sign it into law.

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