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!