A brief November post-mortem, and Missouri notes on things to come

Hey Herd, we’re back! I took a little break after the November elections, which turned into a longer break than I was anticipating. Sorry about that, and I’ll certainly try not to let it happen too often. A lot has happened since November, of course. Today I want to talk about three things: takeaways from the November election, the Missouri ballot initiative process, and some bills to watch in the Missouri legislature.

What we learned from the November election

Missouri and Kansas had exactly the problems we might have expected in November: long lines in some polling places (especially in areas where polls had been moved or closed), and confusion in Missouri about the voter ID law. But for all that, we were spared any major national embarrassment, letting Florida and Georgia take the lead on that instead. In my own polling place in KCMO, voters waited 30-45 minutes in line before being able to cast their ballots. That’s far from ideal, but the voters mostly seemed undaunted.

Turnout was high statewide: 57.6% of registered Kansans voted, setting a record in a non-presidential election, and 58.2% of registered Missourians voted. Locally, the numbers varied, with suburban and rural areas posting higher turnout. According to KCUR, 49.5% of KCMO voters and 49.1% of WyCo voters showed, compared to 61.1% in Clay County, 62.9% in JoCo, 67.3% in Jackson County (outside of KC), and 69.9% in Platte County.

Nationwide, most voters found it to be easier than expected to vote in November, according to a Pew Research study. 76% of voters nationwide said voting was very easy, compared to 44% who expected it to be very easy when asked in October. The Pew study also found that most voters were confident in the results of the elections – 91% of voters were very confident or somewhat confident that votes were counted appropriately, and 77% of voters were very or somewhat confident that their local election systems were safe from hacking.

That’s all very good, but here’s a number I’m really interested in: 61% of people who didn’t vote in November wish they had. The two most common reasons people who wish they’d voted didn’t? 23% said it was too inconvenient for them to vote, and 22% said they either hadn’t registered or weren’t eligible. We’re going to look at some reasons for that, and some ways states and local election authorities could help, later in this post, and in future posts.

Missouri ballot initiatives

Kansas friends, I’ve got nothing else for you today. Missouri folks, the next few paragraphs are for you.

One thing that happened in the November election was that Clean Missouri, the ballot initiative focused on tightening ethics rules for elected officials and creating non-partisan districts, passed by a landslide. The amendment went into effect this month, bringing with it some probably inevitable fallout. First, Governor Parson and legislators on both sides of the aisle started talking about scrapping the amendment, overturning the will of the voters.

Missouri is also taking aim at the ballot initiative process itself. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft tweets that his office has no priority “more important than initiative petition reform”. Representative Chrissy Sommer (R-St. Charles) has filed a bill that, among other changes, introduces a substantial fee for submitting ballot initiative permissions – $500 plus $0.40 per signature. How much would it cost to file an initiative petition if HB290 becomes law? According to the Secretary of State’s initiative petition handbook, a successful initiative needs just over 100,000 signatures to make a statutory change, or 160,000 for a constitutional amendment. At $500 plus 40 cents per signer, an initiative to change a law would run at least $40,500 in fees, and a constitutional amendment initiative would come to over $64,500.

On the other side of the General Assembly, Senator David Sater (R-29) has filed SB5, a similar bill to Sommer’s. The main difference is that his bill wants petition filers to pay $0.80 per signature – take the fees in the last paragraph and double them.

The Star doesn’t like it, and I don’t like it either. The ballot initiative process lets voters address issues that the legislature won’t, and it’s an important part of our democratic toolbox. We ought to hang on to that.

Other bills to watch in Missouri

Missouri legislators got right to work on a few other proposals that might affect your experience as a Missouri voter. Here’s a list of bills to consider, with my opinion on how they measure up to the basic principle of this site, which is that every eligible person ought to be able to vote and that government ought to be directed by the will of the people as expressed in the vote.

  • SB59, SB171: allows absentee voting for any reason. The cow says: I like it. Absentee voting makes it easier for everyone to vote, even the folks who show up and wait in line on election day.
  • HB202: allows absentee voting for any reason if you’re over 60. I like it okay, but would prefer to extend no-excuse absentee voting to everyone.
  • SB109, HB26: requires voters to register for a political party to vote in a primary election. I’m not as big a fan of this one, because I think it makes it harder for people to vote in primaries, and discourages independent voters.
  • HB27: requires local, state, and federal elections in Missouri to use the ranked-choice voting method. I am a big fan of ranked-choice voting, for a number of reasons – if you don’t know what ranked-choice voting is, stick around and I’ll tell you all about it.
  • HB28: requires local elections to use ranked-choice voting. I’d rather have HB27, above, but I’d take this one.
  • HB276: requires Missouri to wait 5 years before invalidating a voter’s registration due to inactivity. Since we currently strike voters from the rolls after 2 years, I think this is an improvement.
  • HB285: among other things, confirms that homeless people have the right to vote in Missouri, assuming they’re otherwise eligible. I can’t speak to the other provisions of this bill, but people without a permanent, regular address can have some unique challenges to voting, so I’m in favor of the idea. I’m not sure what the bill would actually do to help homeless people vote, though.
  • HB368: requires proper voter ID for absentee voting. I admit to being a little puzzled about what this would actually change in the law. I’m assigning myself this one and HB285 as homework, and I’ll try to give you a better read on them soon.
  • HB471: allows voters to electronically sign petitions for ballot initiatives. I’m intrigued.
  • And finally, HB543: Requires electronic voting machines to produce paper records, and requires election authorities to audit election results to make sure that voting machines are accurately recording votes. On first read, I like this one as well. Security and accuracy of elections are important, and the two major provisions of this bill are among the recommendations of people who seem to know what’s up with securing elections. That’s not really my area of expertise, though, so I’m going to try to get an expert to weigh in here.

Whew. That’s a lot to keep track of, but hang with me, and I’ll try to keep up with these bills as they progress, or don’t progress, as the case may be. Thanks for reading!


Vote tomorrow!

All right, folks – last words from us about the November 6 elections. I know you’re busy, so I’ll be brief.

  • Polls are open in Kansas from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In Missouri, they’re open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • If you’re still holding on to a Kansas early voting ballot for some reason, walk it into your assigned polling place.
  • Bring appropriate ID (Kansas/Missouri), your notes or marked sample ballot (make yourself a cheat sheet with BallotReady if you haven’t already done it – it’ll save you some grief at the polls while you try to remember what you wanted), and your patience.
  • If you have trouble at the polls, ask a poll worker for help! Most of us actually want to help you vote, that’s what we’re there for.
  • Ask for a provisional ballot if you need one.
  • If you’re harassed or intimidated at the polls, or if you think you’ve been wrongly refused your right to vote, call the ACLU’s election protection number. That’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE for help in English, or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA for help in Spanish. You can also file a complaint with your election board and your Secretary of State’s office.
  • Use a paper ballot if you can. If you have to use a touchscreen voting machine, make sure you review your choices. Machines vary by election authority, but there should be at least one opportunity for you to review and confirm your votes before the machine prints your ballot or records your votes. If something looks wrong, alert a poll worker.
  • If you are voting with a paper ballot, make sure to look at both sides of the ballot. If you’re using a machine, watch for arrows or other indicators at the bottom of each screen that mean that there’s more to the question, or candidates you haven’t seen yet.
  • If you mess up on a paper ballot, you can hand it back to the poll workers you got it from and ask them to spoil it and give you a new one.
  • Remember, if you’re in line when the polling place closes, you have the right to vote. Don’t leave!
  • Jackson County, MO voters: if you’re befuddled by the county charter questions (Questions 1-7), don’t stress too much about it. There’s already a charter change commission scheduled to convene in 2019. If you want to dig into the particulars of these issues, you can check out the full text of the proposed changes. If you’d rather get your guidance from the local paper of record, the Star has a run-down of recommendations.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you at the polls!

Much ado about medical marijuana

caduceus-2789653_640Medical marijuana is apparently an idea whose time has come to Missouri. Or, at least, enough people are into the idea that we have not one, not two, but three medical marijuana questions on the ballot. What does that mean? What happens if they all pass? Let’s take a look:

  1. There are two constitutional amendments on the ballot (Amendments 2 and 3), and one legislative measure (Proposition C). All three got there by initiative petition, which means that at least 160,000 registered voters in Missouri thought that Amendments 2 and 3 were worth a look, and at least 100,000 were willing to sign on for Proposition C.
  2. These measures are mutually exclusive. We might pass more than one, but since they all lay out different strategies for doing the same thing, only one can take effect. Per the state constitution (Article 3, Section 51), “When conflicting measures are approved at the same election the one receiving the largest affirmative vote shall prevail.” So whichever measure gets the most YES votes should, theoretically, become law.*
  3. If Proposition C goes into effect, it will essentially create a law that can be modified by the legislature and the governor. Given that the Missouri legislature has not historically been all that keen on medical marijuana, there’s some possibility that even if Proposition C passes, what actually happens will not look much like the proposition approved by the voters. Missouri would then find itself in a similar position to Oklahoma, where voters approved a measure that the legislature felt was too permissive and/or inadequately defined, and pushed back. An amendment to the state constitution would be more likely to hold up to legislative challenge – the legislature would have to pass an amendment, and then send it back to the voters for approval.

So, if you completely hate the idea of medical marijuana, your voting strategy is fairly straightforward here. You would need all three measures to fail, and accordingly vote NO on all of them. But, if you would rather that Missouri adopt a medical marijuana policy of some kind, your decision could be more complicated. Remember, voters can pass all of these measures, but only the one with the most YES votes takes effect.

Here’s a summary of your options, and a link to the full text of each measure:

Amendment 2 Allows marijuana to be prescribed for 9 listed conditions, and others at doctors’ discretion. Taxes marijuana sales at 4%, with revenue used to cover veterans’ services. Allows patients to grow up to 6 plants for personal use. Allows patients up to 4 ounces of dried marijuana per month, and to hold up to a 2 months’ supply. Local governments would not be able to ban marijuana dispensaries, but could regulate their location. This measure is supported by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, NORML, Drug Policy Action, Our Revolution, and the Epilepsy Foundation of Missouri and Kansas. It is opposed by the Missouri State Medical Association (and presumably by Brad Bradshaw, who filed a lawsuit to stop it gaining ballot access).

Amendment 3Creates a research board, led by Springfield physician and attorney Brad Bradshaw. Allows marijuana to be prescribed for 10 listed conditions, and others at the discretion of the research board. Taxes marijuana sales at 15%, with revenue used to fund the research board, which would be expected to find cures for various diseases and conditions, and use those cures to generate additional revenue for the state. Does not address whether or not patients could grow marijuana. Allows patients up to 3 ounces of dried marijuana per month, with no specified limit on how many months’ supply a patient might have at a time. Local governments could ban dispensaries within their limits. This measure is opposed by the Missouri State Medical Association and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

Proposition CAllows marijuana to be prescribed for 9 listed conditions, and others at doctors’ discretion. Taxes marijuana sales at 2%, with revenue used for veterans’ services, drug treatment and education, and law enforcement. Prohibits patients from growing marijuana. Allows patients up to 2.5 ounces of dried cannabis flower** or equivalent per two weeks, and to hold up to a 60 day supply at once. Local governments could ban dispensaries within their limits. This measure is supported by Senator McCaskill, and opposed by the Missouri State Medical Association.


* We all know that how things should go is not always how they do go, right? We’ve not actually tested this rule, as far as I can tell. In 2016, there were two measures on the ballot that raised the state tax on tobacco products by different amounts, and the Attorney General’s office was of the opinion that if they both passed, the matter would have to go to court to be decided. As it turned out, though, voters didn’t pass either one of them, so we didn’t get to find out what would have happened next.

** Confession: Your humble correspondent does not know whether “dried cannabis flower” is the same thing as “dried marijuana” or not. I’m using the same language that is in the measure in case it matters.


What is a provisional ballot, anyway?

George Takei tweet about provisional ballots

I don’t know what your Facebook and Twitter feeds have looked like for the past couple of days, but this tweet from George Takei has been all over mine. If you’re looking at this on a tiny screen or can’t read the print, it says “If you are turned away at the polls because your name is not on the register, don’t walk away. Say this: I REQUEST A PROVISIONAL BALLOT AS REQUIRED BY LAW. Don’t let them steal your vote.”

So you might be wondering, “What is a provisional ballot? Do I need one? Is this good advice?”. Well, wonder no more, my friends. Let’s talk about it.

What is a provisional ballot? It’s a ballot that somebody needs more information about in order to decide whether or not it ought to count. Provisional ballots are generally held aside from the general stack of completed ballots, and some election official has to come in and review them later.

You might vote on a provisional ballot if the poll workers can’t find you in the voter rolls. Or, if you live in a state (like KS and MO) where the law specifies what kind of ID you have to have in order to vote, and you don’t have an ID with you that’s on that list. Or, if you are registered to vote, but you’re supposed to vote in some polling place other than the one you’re at. Or, in Kansas, if the address on your ID doesn’t match the address in the registration system. Or, if there’s some possibility that you might have already voted advance or absentee and might be trying to vote again. Basically, if there’s any question about whether or not you’re really eligible to cast this particular vote, you can request or be given a provisional ballot.

Is that a good idea? Well, usually. It’s certainly better than just giving up and leaving the polls. I can’t tell you whether any particular provisional vote will actually be counted or not. That’s always going to be up to the folks running the election. But here are some things to think about:

  • If the reason you are voting provisionally is that the poll workers can’t find your registration, it’s possible that they’re not able to see the whole list of registered voters for some reason, and somebody with better data access at the election board or office will be able to validate your vote.
  • Even if you really have been removed from the rolls for some reason, properly or improperly (all states purge voters if the voter is inactive for a long enough period of time, and lots of states have opted to purge voters for other reasons this year), casting a provisional ballot can’t hurt. Your ballot creates a record. That record may become important if there is a legal challenge to the election process or results.
  • If the reason you are voting provisionally is that there’s some issue with your ID, and you have a valid form of identification somewhere else, what happens next depends on your state. In Missouri, you can come back to the poll with a valid ID and pull your ballot out of provisional status right there. In Kansas, you will need to contact the election office after the polls close. Ask a poll worker how and when to do that – it varies by county.
  • But: If the reason that you are voting provisionally is that you are in the wrong polling place, and you can get to the right polling place before the polls close – maybe don’t bother with the provisional vote and just go over to the other poll. That way you can be sure your vote will be counted. This varies a little by state. In Kansas, if you have moved in the 30 days before the election, you can still vote at your old polling place. Missouri wants you to change your address with the poll worker at your old polling place, and then go to the new one.

Okay, so I cast a provisional ballot – now what? In both Missouri and Kansas, you should get some sort of ballot stub or receipt for your provisional ballot. Hold on to that thing. In Kansas, you should also get instructions on how to follow up with the election office. If the poll worker helping you with your ballot doesn’t volunteer that information – ask them! In Missouri, once you’ve cast the provisional ballot, there’s not much you can do to change its fate immediately (unless you needed a valid ID and went back to the polls with one). You can, however, find out what happened to your ballot by calling the Secretary of State’s office at 866-868-3245, at least 14 days after the election.

Kansas Advance Voting Starts Tomorrow

As a Missourian, if there’s anything I’m willing to admit to being envious of Kansas about, it’s the advance voting system. Seriously, Missouri, we should get us one of those. Let’s talk. But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that if you are fortunate enough to be a Kansas voter, you can vote early by mail starting tomorrow, or in person starting October 22 or 23, depending on your county.

To vote by mail, you have to have a ballot. To get a ballot, you have to ask your county election office for one. (Here’s a handy link to the application for Johnson and Wyandotte county voters.) Fill that bad boy out, print it, and mail it in to the election office. They’ll mail you a ballot. Mark your ballot, seal it up, make sure you fill out all the important stuff on the outside of your ballot envelope, and mail it back before election day. No standing in lines on election day, very easy, very nice. Folks with disabilities or chronic illness who are regularly going to be prevented from going to the polls by their health can apply to always get a ballot mailed to them without needing to request one every time. Everybody else has to request a ballot for each election they want to vote by mail.

If you prefer to vote in person, but still want to get it out of the way before election day, you can do that starting next week. Johnson County has six early voting sites – check the location and hours before you go. Wyandotte County hasn’t posted their locations or schedules yet, but I’ll keep looking and share them with you when I find them. If you’re in another county, check your county’s election office website for details.

Happy voting, Kansan friends!

It’s a big ballot: Make a plan

I’ve been out of town a few weeks, partially because I was attending a conference on election reform. We’re definitely gonna talk about that later, but there’s some more pressing business I want to talk about first. Practically the first thing I did when I got home was attend my poll worker election update class, where I learned two important things about this November’s election in KCMO:

  1. There are between 39 and 42 items on the ballot in November, depending on where you live. We’ve got a Senate seat, a House seat, the state Auditor, state Representatives, the County Executive, Jackson County legislators, about eighty million judges, and a veritable buffet table of constitutional amendments, state and local measures, and some of us get a question about our library district. This ballot is a monster. AND THEN:
  2. A lot of that stuff is really important to people. Aside from whatever effect all those candidates might have on your life if elected, this election is going to decide whether or not to raise the minimum wage in Missouri, whether or not (and how) Missouri adopts a medical marijuana program, how much you’ll be taxed for gas, how easy it is to get a bingo game going for money, and all that business about ethics, lobbying, and redistricting that’s packed into Amendment 1. So: money, drugs, ethics, bingo — no matter who you are, you probably care about at least one of those things. And then, there’s this whole thing where maybe the Senate flips to Democratic control, maybe it doesn’t — exciting stuff. What does that mean? Big voter turnout. A little bird told me that the election board is expecting 70% voter turnout. That’s A LOT. For context, back when we had the Presidential election in 2016 (you probably remember it, it was kind of a big deal), KCMO turnout was just under 58%. In November 2014, the last midterm election, KCMO posted about 25% turnout.

So, kids. Big ballot + big turnout. That’s going to add up to long lines at the polls. Let’s be smart, and be prepared. We here at the Cow have some recommendations on how to make this as easy as possible:

  1. Vote absentee if you can. Unlike our neighbor to the west, Missouri doesn’t really go in for early voting, and we’re fairly restrictive about who can vote absentee. But if you can manage to fit yourself into one of those qualifying groups, it might be worth your trouble to request an absentee ballot.
  2. If you can’t vote absentee (most of us can’t), know what you’re voting on when you get to your polling place on election day. You can get a sample ballot from the election board, and read through everything that’s up for a vote. Take some time, think this one through before you show up to the polls. Maybe go ahead and mark your choices on your sample ballot, and take it with you. Or you can use a site like BallotReady to review the ballot and print or email your picks. Then you’re not meeting anything on the ballot for the first time when you go to vote – you’ve already spent the time to think it over, and it’s gonna get you out of the poll much faster.
  3. Know where you’re going. Before you head out, find your polling place. Make sure it’s the place you think it is.
  4. Know your rights as a voter. Here are two that are especially relevant to making sure you actually get to cast a vote:
    • Polls open at 6 a.m., and close at 7 p.m. on election day. If you are in line at 7 p.m., you get to vote. Don’t go home just because the polling day is over.
    • If you work in Missouri, and you are scheduled to work on election day in such a way that your schedule doesn’t give you three consecutive hours off while the polls are open, you have the right to take up to three hours off during the day to vote. The catch is that you have to request the time off in advance, however your employer usually wants requests made, and your employer can specify which three hours you can have off. This is even supposed to be paid time off, provided that you actually use it to vote.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be talking about some of the issues on the ballot, some of the positions up for grabs and what they do, and other useful information about your rights as a voter and what to do if somebody doesn’t seem to want to let you use them. There’s a lot going on, but hang on, folks, we’re gonna get through this. Until next time, happy election season.

“Clean Missouri” back on the ballot

Maybe I’m just paying more attention than usual to the ballot process for November’s election, but it seems like November’s crop of proposed amendments and legislative issues is a little more dramatic than usual. We’ve got two competing amendments looking to legalize medical marijuana in entirely different ways, we’ve got an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage coming up after the state ruled that cities have no business raising their own minimum wage, and then there’s the courtroom drama. Amendment 1,  the Lobbying, Campaign Finance, and Redistricting Initiative, (better known as Clean Missouri) just survived a major court challenge and is back on the ballot after a circuit judge ordered it off the ballot last week.

What’s the trouble with Amendment 1? Opponents say it’s poorly written and tries to make too many unrelated changes at once. Supporters say opponents are afraid of the reforms it will require. Let’s break it down.

Amendment 1 has four main ideas:

  1. Legislative transparency – Under this amendment, all legislative records would be classed as “public records”, including records of legislative proceedings and votes. Members of the public would also be guaranteed the right to record legislative meetings, so long as they weren’t being disruptive. Missouri currently has a Sunshine Law, but it’s a state statute, not a constitutional provision.
  2. Redistricting – Amendment 1 would make major changes to the way that state legislative districts are drawn. That might not sound very exciting, but it could have a huge effect on state government and who represents you. Right now, legislative districts are drawn by committees of the state legislature, and approved by the governor. This means that current state lawmakers have some freedom to set up districts in a way that gives them the best chance of re-election. Amendment 1 would create a non-partisan position, state demographer, and require the person in that position to draw districts that promote competition between the parties. The amendment also includes some ideas about how to use math to check whether a district is fair and competitive or not. (Your humble correspondent is a HUGE NERD about redistricting, but I don’t want to get too into the mathematics of it here. That’s another post for another day.)
  3. Lobbying – The proposed Amendment would require anybody who serves as a legislator or a legislative employee to wait two years before becoming a paid lobbyist, or even looking for a job as a paid lobbyist. The Amendment also limits lobbyist gifts to legislators to things worth $5 or less. There’s an exception here – if you are related to a legislator, the limit doesn’t apply. I imagine that’s so we don’t see people getting in trouble because they gave their cousin, who happens to be a Missouri lawmaker, a birthday present. But I also imagine that we might see a new trend of lobbying firms hiring legislators’ relatives. Maybe. Unless that’s already illegal. (Note to self: Is that already illegal? It’s an interesting question.)
  4. Campaign finance – This is the big one. First off, the Amendment would ban the legislature from passing any law allowing for unlimited campaign contributions. Then, it would limit donations to candidate campaigns – any person or committee would only be able to give $2,000 to a campaign to elect a state representative, or $2,500 to elect a state senator. There’s some other business in there about how it’s not a good idea to form sock puppet committees to make more donations, or to pretend to be someone else, that sort of thing. It also stops Missouri candidates from taking money from federal PACs unless the donor PAC is registered appropriately in Missouri and agrees to play by Missouri’s rules. Finally, it bans candidates from campaigning on state property, which, frankly, I thought was already illegal. But there you are.

So that’s what’s in the Amendment. Still with me? Okay, good. If you want to get further into the details of Amendment 1, the full version of the petition is available from the Secretary of State’s website.

The legal challenge was brought by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Their complaint was focused on a rule that proposed Amendments have to amend only a single article of the state Constitution, and have a single purpose. Initially, a Cole County judge agreed that the initiative was too broad. But today, an appellate court overturned that decision, saying that the single purpose of the initiative was “regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests”. So Amendment 1 is back on the ballot for now, but today’s decision is likely to be appealed again, to the Missouri Supreme Court. Whatever happens, folks who want to strike this issue from the ballot will have to act fast. The usual deadline for changes to ballots is six weeks before the date of the election, and that’s this coming Tuesday, 9/26.