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.

 

How should I know which judges should keep their seats?

I’m gonna level with you, herd. (Can I call you “herd”? Is that okay?)

I consider myself to be a fairly informed voter. I mean, I vote every election, I diligently preview my ballot and research candidates and issues, I work at the polls. Heck, I even write a blog about voting these days. (Thanks for reading, by the way.)

But there is still a part of the ballot that I get hung up on every time:

“Shall Judge So-and-So of the Such-and-Such court be retained in office? Yes/No” 

Well, how should I know? Judges don’t usually campaign. The media doesn’t cover them unless they’re ruling on something really dramatic. Every now and again, some judge does something that bothers a lot of people, and then that gets covered, but that’s about it. Unless you spend a lot of time in court, and happily, I don’t spend a lot of time in court, you probably have no idea who most of these people are, or what they think, or whether they’re any good at their job or not. How do I know if they should be retained in office?

It turns out that lots of people have this question. The short answer usually seems to be “find someone who does spend a lot of time in courts, and ask them”. Steve Kraske had a recent piece on KCUR on the topic, and his guest recommended that people “talk to their attorney friends”. If you’ve got some friends who happen to be attorneys (or court reporters, or probation officers, or police officers, or maybe even just extremely litigious people), that’s probably going to work out. But say you don’t. You’ve still got some resources.

  • The Missouri Bar Association posts reviews of judges at YourMissouriJudges.org. These reviews are done anonymously by lawyers who argued cases in front of the judge, or who read legal opinions written by the judge. If the judge presides over a court where there is also a jury, jury members also review the judge. Reviews are based on criteria like “Did the judge appear to be free from bias?” or “The judge applied rules of evidence relevant to the case.” Most of the time, most reviewers seem to be fine with recommending keeping the judge in office, but you can read reviews for all the judges up for election in your area, and see if you find anything that bothers you about a particular judge.
  • If you are in JoCo Kansas, the Johnson County Bar Association does a similar survey, except that theirs is only addressed to lawyers. They rate judges on criteria like “Fairness and Impartiality”, “Judicial Temperament”, and “Knowledge of Law”. Their website reports overall recommendations, but you can also get the full survey results. 
  • If you’re in Wyandotte County, your judges get and keep their seats a bit differently. Your county judges are elected — they campaign like other elected officials, and you can get some information about them from our good friends at BallotPedia. You also get to vote whether or not to retain judges for the Kansas Court of Appeals. Nobody seems to do performance reviews for them, alas.

Normally, I’m not all that into the idea of relying on the opinions of other people to make my voting decisions. Here, though, it might be the best option. If you want more information, most of the courts also post online bios of currently sitting judges. This can tell you things like how long a particular judge has held the office, who appointed them, what their educational background is, what groups they’re affiliated with, and so on. Some also include key or recent opinions written by the judge, if you really want to dig into things. Here’s a quick list of some bios for sitting judges:

Kansas

Missouri

So there you are, no lawyer friends required. Happy voting!

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.