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Column: Time for early voting

It happens every four years. The presidential election comes, and, inevitably, somewhere in the state, polling places clog and congest. Near motionless lines run out the door. This past November was no different. My precinct was one of many with wait times topping an hour.

Secretary of State Jason Kander
Secretary of State Jason Kander

The fact that long lines and wait times have become the norm in Missouri is unacceptable.

It should come as no surprise that Missouri’s average polling place wait time was the fifth highest in the country in 2008, according to research by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Missouri is one of only 15 states that do not offer any form of no-excuse absentee or early voting.

Meanwhile, 35 other states have demonstrated a number of successful ways to offer their residents more convenient, more accessible voting options. As Missouri’s chief elections officer, I believe it is time to join the overwhelming majority of states with early voting. County clerks and election directors agree. They know that early voting reduces the burden on poll workers, resulting in increased efficiency when Election Day comes.

In my first days in office, I assembled a diverse group of election officials and community leaders to advise me on the most efficient, fair and secure way to provide eligible voters the option to cast a ballot before Election Day.

The 11 Republicans and Democrats of the commission, representing urban, rural and suburban communities across the state, agreed on four ways we could move our state’s voting system forward.

What they recommended is neither surprising nor radical. Their recommendations put us well within the parameters of what many other states are successfully providing for their residents.

First, we should create an early voting period for in-person voting at central locations established by local election authorities. This period will replace in-person absentee voting while running concurrently with the six-week period of mail-in absentee voting.

Second, for November presidential elections, the commission recommends giving communities the option of creating satellite locations to meet increased demand. This would be mandatory only for the six jurisdictions in the state that have more than 175,000 registered voters, where local election authorities must open at least one satellite location for a minimum of 14 days.

Third, we should allow Missourians to vote absentee by mail for any reason. It is time to end the needlessly invasive practice of requiring voters to provide a state-sanctioned excuse in order to vote before Election Day.

Fourth and finally, the confidentiality of early voting lists should be protected in the same way absentee voting lists are presently protected.

These are simple, straightforward reforms – the consensus position of a bipartisan, geographically representative commission. And they have now been introduced in the House by the Vice-Chairman of the House Elections Committee, Representative Myron Neth, a Republican from Liberty.

There has been consistent, bipartisan support for this idea. As former Governor and Secretary of State Matt Blunt wrote in a report supporting early voting, “By decreasing polling place lines on Election Day, the potential for confusion and fraud will be reduced and voter confidence and participation can be expected to rise.”

Undoubtedly, there will be some in the legislature who question these recommendations because of modest costs associated with their adoption. Implementing the commission’s recommendations for efficient, fair and secure early voting, however, is the most affordable early voting plan ever proposed in Missouri. It’s simply a matter of priorities, a matter of putting the voters first.

The legislature should give this new proposal a fair, standalone, up or down vote. Voters are waiting.