ACLU challenges Missouri lawmakers’ version of early voting

The American Civil Liberties Union this week challenged Missouri lawmakers’ proposed constitutional amendment allowing early voting in the state.

Lawmakers in May passed a resolution placing the question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, asking voters: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to permit voting in person or by mail for a period of six business days prior to and including the Wednesday before the election day in all general elections?”

Under current law, Missourians can vote before an election by absentee ballot, if they can provide a reason for not being able to vote on election day, including being out-of-town, being confined due to illness or physical disability or working as an election judge or for the election authority at a location other than their usual polling place.

The lawmakers’ proposal would allow in-person voting at the county clerk’s office — only during week-day, regular business hours — for six extra days, starting on the Wednesday two weeks before the election until the Wednesday before the general election.

The ACLU’s seven-page lawsuit argues the lawmakers’ ballot title is insufficient and unfair because “it deceives and misleads voters about what the Proposed Constitutional Amendment would and would not do, and, thus, is neither true nor impartial” as state election law requires.

For starters, the lawsuit said, the proposed amendment doesn’t permit voting because the complete amendment, contained in the resolution (House Joint Resolution 90) would allow for advance voting only after “a state appropriation is made and disbursed.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Cole County circuit court by ACLU lawyers Anthony Rothert and Grant Doty in St. Louis and Gillian Wilcox in Kansas City.

Defendants include Secretary of State Jason Kander, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, who sponsored the resolution proposing the amendment.

Eric Slusher, spokesman for Attorney General Chris Koster, said they had not received a copy of the lawsuit by Thursday afternoon, so they couldn’t comment on it.

Kander spokesman Kevin Flannery noted: “When the Legislature writes the (ballot) language, our office’s process is ministerial.”

The lawsuit also said: “The summary statement is especially misleading because the Proposed Constitutional Amendment will appear on the ballot with a separate citizen initiative that would, in fact, permit early voting without any appropriation contingency.”

In a news release announcing the suit, ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman added: “Citizens gathered signatures to allow early voting, but the Legislature is trying to trick the voters with a sham constitutional amendment that intentionally misleads. Instead of throwing up roadblocks, our state representatives need to promote democracy by ensuring everyone can cast a ballot.”

Kander’s office has until next month to determine whether the citizen-petition collected enough valid signatures to be placed on the November ballot.

The petition proposal includes a six-week early voting period, with some weekend voting hours and, depending on the number of registered voters in a county, the possibility of satellite voting locations as well as the clerk’s office.

If both amendments are on the ballot, the one getting the most votes will change the Constitution.

At the end of business Thursday, the case had not yet been posted on Case.net, the state courts system’s online docket tracking system. There was no indication as to which judge was assigned to hear the case or when a hearing might be scheduled.

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