Changes to the Missouri Primary and petition initiative process proposed by lawmakers

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Lawmakers in Jefferson City are debating several proposals that would change current election laws. One proposal would change Missouri’s primary elections from being open to closed. Current law allows voters to declare which party ballot they want on election day.

State Rep. Jered Taylor (R-Nixa) wants to change that. He’s filed HB 1639 and presented his bill to the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee on Wednesday. His bill would require voters to declare a party weeks before an election if they intend on voting for a specific candidate.

Taylor cited the 2012 Missouri primary as an example of why he feels the state should change from an open to a closed primary. He said Democrats voted for Todd Aken in the Republican primary because they thought he would be the weakest opponent.

“That is rigging the process,” Taylor said.

Opponents raised concerns including whether some voters want the ability to keep their party affiliation private. Some questioned how a closed primary would work for voters who support a candidate belonging to one party for one position such as president but wish to vote for a candidate in a different party for a position such as governor.

Rick Watson, president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities, testified against the bill. He said election officials are busy enough keeping track of current voter registration.

“This will just add one more layer of expensive and unnecessary expenses,” Watson told lawmakers.

Another proposed change to Missouri election laws involves petition initiatives. State Rep. John Simmons presented HJR 102 to the committee. The proposed legislation would change the requirement for passage of a petition initiative changing the state’s constitution from a simple majority to two-thirds of the vote. It would also set requirements for signatures coming from all parts of the state.

Simmons cited a study by the National Council of State Legislatures. He said the study determined the ballot initiative process has evolved from a grassroots tool into a tool that is too often exploited by special interests.

Opponents testified the proposed legislation would make it more difficult for voters to make changes.

“This is another step in making it harder for the public to engage in policymaking processes that impact their lives by making it more and more expensive to get on the ballot and change the constitution,” said Ed Smith, Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Read HB 1639.
Read HJR 102.

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