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!

Resource round-up: Getting to the polls

If lack of transportation is stopping you from voting, lots of folks want to help. Here’s a quick list of options for grabbing a free or cheap ride to the polls:

Thanks for reading! I’ll keep updating this list as I become aware of more resources.

When is a voter ID law not a voter ID law?

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A PHOTO ID TO VOTE IN MISSOURI. 

(I wanted to start this post with something clever, but didn’t want to bury the important stuff.)

It’s true, though: Missouri passed a law a few years back that everybody said required folks to have a photo ID to vote. But it doesn’t. In fact, last week a judge told the Secretary of State’s office to stop telling people they needed a photo ID. Because you don’t. You just have to have something that establishes your identity.

If your ID happened to be something that wasn’t a current, valid, Missouri photo ID, the folks at your polling place were supposed to have you sign a statement that said that you understood that you needed to get a photo ID, but they didn’t stop you from voting. Now, the polling place should not even ask you to sign that statement.

Here’s what you can use to establish your identity for voting purposes in Missouri:

  • A current Missouri driver’s license or non-driver ID
  • An expired Missouri driver’s license or non-driver ID
  • A passport
  • A military or dependent ID
  • An employee photo ID issued by a department of the state or federal government
  • A student ID issued by a college or other post-high-school educational institution
  • A driver’s license or non-driver ID from a state that isn’t Missouri
  • A voter registration card
  • A utility bill sent to your name at your current address
  • A paycheck stub or government check stub with your current name and address
  • A bank statement with your current name and address

Any of those things will allow you to cast a vote in the usual way in Missouri, as long as you’re a registered voter. Now, if you show up to the poll and don’t have any of those things, but you are a registered voter, you can still vote, but you’ll have to vote on a provisional ballot (remember provisional ballots?).

So if you don’t have a photo ID, or you lost your driver’s license the day before the election, don’t despair. Come vote anyway.

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!

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.