JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Some Missouri lawmakers are asking Governor Mike Parson to call them back to the Capitol for a special session on election reform after the legislation didn’t make it across the finish line during the five-month regular session.
Chairman of the House Elections Committee, Rep. Dan Shaul (R-Imperial), said he is frustrated with the Senate for not making election reform a priority. In a letter to Parson, signed by six other Republicans on the committee, Shaul asks the governor to order members back to Jefferson City. this summer.
“We did our job in the House. The Senate, they have different times, different schedules over there,” Shaul said. “There were other things that took precedence that were more sexy.”
Shaul said he disappointed members in the upper chamber made raising the gas tax for the first time in 25 years more important than focusing on election integrity.
“it was frustrating to me personally, being a conservative Republican, that we put an emphasis on passing and raising taxes rather than passing photo ID,” Shaul said. “Frustrated would be an understatement.”
One of the big items on the agenda for Republican lawmakers included requiring photo ID to vote.
“That is the bedrock to secure elections,” Shaul said. “It’s kind of like your furnace filter, you know it needs to be fixed, yet you walk by it all the time.”
While across the Capitol in the other chamber, Senate President Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) said on the last day of the session, senators couldn’t find a compromise.
“There was a difficulty in a consensus in trying to find the right mechanism for photo ID,” Schatz said. “I think that’s why we were never really able to get one to the floor.”
Another provision under election reform is only allowing voters to use paper ballots. Rep. Donna Baringer (D-St. Louis) sits on the elections committee and said this change would cost St. Louis millions.
“The City of St. Louis does not have the capability to do that, and it would cost the City of St. Louis upwards of $10 million,” Baringer said. “I think the elections bill, certain parts, not all, really need to be address and we need to work on them.”
Shaul said election reform became an important item this summer for some members after what happened during the presidential election across the country last fall.
“Our elections in Missouri are very safe, transparent and trustworthy, but we can’t just rest, we have to continue to look and make sure we do the right thing to insure that,” Shaul said. “There were some things we saw in other states, and we wanted to be proactive and protect our elections.”
Currently, under state statute, if someone dies after casting their ballot, their vote doesn’t count. Lawmakers put a provision in the legislation to make sure it counts because it’s done differently throughout the state.
“What happens if you get hit by a bus after you vote?” Shaul said. “Some parts of the state they pull your ballot out, other parts, your vote counts.”
Baringer says it would be impossible for St. Louis City and County to monitor when a person dies if they already voted.
“They know when somebody dies and they go in if they mailed it in and they just pull it out,” Baringer said. “In St. Louis City and County, we can’t track it like that, people die all the time.”
A piece of the legislation that Senate leadership has said multiple times during session they support is making it hard to change the constitution.
“The photo ID, IP [initiative petition] reform, specifically IP reform, that’s a lot of folks in our caucus who feel like we need to do something on that front but regardless of if we pass it this year or next year, it’s going to be on, presumably, an August 2022 ballot,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said.
The change for the initiative petition process would charge a $500 filing fee that would be refundable. Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana, and Clean Missouri were all on the ballot by the initiative petition process.
“Making sure that we can change statutes through initiative petition if we’re going to change the constitution, it should be at a higher standard,” Shaul said.
He said the legislation also requires signatures from all eight congressional districts in the state, not just five.
Our Missouri Chief Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley reached out to the governor’s office for a response to Shaul’s letter but has not heard back.
Shaul said he also has not heard from the governor after he sent the letter to him in May.
“This year we had some conversations with the governor’s staff about the importance of some of this legislation, but it ran out of time,” Shaul said. “There were more pressing issues for the administration than election reform this year.”
Both Shaul and Baringer said they aren’t keeping their hopes up on returning to the Capitol this summer to address election legislation.
“As a stand-alone, it is not a special session,” Baringer said.
“I would be shocked if we have a special session for it,” Shaul said.
There is a chance lawmakers return to Jefferson City this summer to renew the Federal Reimbursement Allowance (FRA) program which taxes healthcare providers like nursing homes and hospitals to fund the state’s Medicaid program. Parson could expand the call to include election reform.