Missouri proposal to expand access to voting goes to court

9 months 1 week 5 days ago Monday, October 21 2019 Oct 21, 2019 Monday, October 21, 2019 4:19:00 PM CDT October 21, 2019 in News
By: The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — An attorney for a Missouri group pushing to expand access to voting argued in court Monday that the state's top election official was inaccurate and left out important details in his summary of the proposals.

At issue are ballot summaries meant to help voters understand the lengthy proposals to change state law or the Missouri Constitution.

Plaintiff attorney Chuck Hatfield said Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was misleading in summaries he approved for various versions of the voter-registration initiative. Hatfield asked Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green to rewrite the summaries.

The initiative petition would automatically register eligible Missourians to vote when they apply for driver's licenses and state-issued IDs. The measure also would allow residents to vote absentee for any reason and allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

If supporters collect enough signatures, the measure could go before voters in 2020.

Ashcroft's summary asks voters if they support establishing "automatic voter registration of individuals at least 16 years old from state agency lists."

Some of the secretary of state's descriptions also say the proposal would "allow voters on election day to appear at the wrong polling place, vote on a wrong ballot, and have election judges later transfer the votes to the right ballot."

"Nobody's going to vote for that," Hatfield told the judge. "It's drafted in a way that nobody's going to vote for it, and I think your honor can assume it's done that way on purpose."

That section of the summary refers to part of the ballot initiative that would allow voters to cast provisional ballots if they vote in their county, but at a different polling place than their assigned precinct. Under the proposal, most of those votes would still be counted.

State attorneys argued that Ashcroft's descriptions adequately relayed the wide-ranging ballot initiative, especially considering summaries are capped at 100 words.

"The summary statements here accurately convey not only the key central features of the initiative, but they were drafted fairly (and) sufficiently," Assistant Attorney General Jason Lewis said in court.

The judge gave attorneys two weeks to submit additional filings.

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