JEFFERSON CITY — The House Committee on Elections and Elected Officials heard bills Wednesday that would both loosen and tighten election laws in Missouri.
Two similar bills, HB 842 and HB 738, would require hand-marked paper ballots be used and not just electronic voting machines.
According to the sponsor of HB 842, Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, only a few counties don’t have voting machines that accept hand-marked paper ballots. The lawmakers said this is mostly due to lack of funding for new machines.
“In a person’s vote and the ability to audit that vote with humans and not machines, there’s very little doubt that’s able to be cast in that election if we have physical pieces of paper marked by hand,” Hill said.
HB 1065, sponsored by Rep. Peggy McGaugh, R-Carrollton, includes 29 provisions including one that would require photo ID to vote; a provisional ballot would have to be cast if a photo ID isn’t provided. The provision is similar to HB 334, which was sent to the Senate in February.
“House Bill 1065 is a collaboration between the Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities, as well as the Secretary of State’s office,” McGaugh said.
The bill also proposes doing away with the presidential preference primaries. The bill’s sponsor argued that the primaries don’t get heavy participation, and it would save the state $9 million.
“Many people don’t vote, and so this is a way to save $9 million,” McGaugh said.
Johnson County Clerk Diane Thompson said it costs $31.47 per voter in a primary election in her county.
Lawmakers discussed the idea of caucuses replacing the primary process.
Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, was skeptical of doing away with primaries, concerned that it would suppress voter choice.
“Can we put a price tag on a trustworthy election?” Windham said.
“As a taxpayer I can think of a lot of other things to do with $9 million,” Thompson said. “When we have 16 or 20% turnout, we’re not really getting that much input from the voters.”
The bill also took on absentee voting. Right now, absentee voters with an excuse have six weeks leading up to election day to send in their absentee ballot. The proposed bill has a provision which would allow three weeks for unexcused absentee ballots to be sent in as well.
The bill also allows for ballot drop boxes, where absentee voters can leave their ballots. Absentee ballot privacy was another concern for the sponsor. Her bill would prevent third parties, like political campaigns, from getting access to demographic data included in absentee ballots.
McGaugh said that many of these provisions come from the Association of County Clerks.
“Some of these have been resolutions since I was county clerk, and they never came to realization,” McGaugh said.
Five county clerks came to testify in support of the bill. None were opposed, but Committee Chairperson Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, noted that there was written testimony opposed to the bill.