Early Voting in Missouri: Easy Work Done, Now Who Wants to Gather Signatures?

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Today Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced that a petition for changing Missouri election laws can be circulated for signature to voters.

The initiative would allow Missourians to cast early ballots for all general federal elections (ie. the offices of Congress, the Senate and the presidency).

That's right. No more waiting in long lines on election day. Sounds good -- in theory. And in theory is where early voting it's likely to remain in Missouri for quite some time.

Why's that? Because getting early voting approved for circulation is the easy part. Getting it on the 2010 ballot is the far more difficult challenge -- requiring tens of thousands of voter signatures by May 2 -- and the person behind the petition tells Daily RFT she has no plans of pounding the pavement in search of autographs.

"I never had the intention of organizing campaign to get this on the ballot," says Jo Sapp of Columbia, Missouri, who says she'll accomplish her goal if she just gets people talking about early voting.

"There's no way a single individual can go out there and get the number of signatures required," she says. "But since this is a recurring idea, I thought maybe it's time to open this up for discussion."

Sapp adds that every state that surrounds Missouri has some form of early voting that does not require a special excuse from the voter. In Missouri, absentee voters can cast an early ballot but only if they can provide an adequate reason as to why they can't vote on election day.

"So the questions are: What's wrong with the systems elsewhere, and why can't we give it a try?" she says.

As it stands now, Sapp's initiative would allow Missourians to "vote early" but (in contrast to the Chicago political cliche) "not often." It reads:
Shall Missourilaw be amended to:
  • expand options for voters by allowing them to cast ballots in person prior to federal general elections without the current absentee ballot excuse requirement;
  • and make it illegal to cast such an early ballot and to vote at the polls for the same election?
In the most recent federal general election of 2008, 32 states allowed voters to cast early ballots without a special excuse. And while most early voters tend to sway toward Republican candidates and issues, the 2008 election defied that trend with record numbers of people casting their early vote for Barack Obama.

Sapp says she's less concerned as to which party would most benefit from early voting. Her goal is to include more people in the electoral process.

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