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Redistricting language wrong on ballots issued in 2 counties

At least two counties issued ballots to voters with incorrect language pertaining to Amendment 3, which makes changes to the voter-approved Clean Missouri, as absentee voting got underway this week. 

Ballots sent to voters in Buchanan and Vernon counties included the original language related to Amendment 3 which was scrapped by a judge in August. Both county clerks said new ballots “soon” would be sent to voters. 

Madison County Clerk Donal Firebaugh said a sample ballot previously shared with reporters also included the original language but actual ballots sent to voters were accurate.

“There was an error in the language due to courts switching it left and right,” Buchanan County Clerk Mary Baack-Garvey told The Missouri Times. “We’re mailing all new ballots out to those who got them yesterday and instructing people to destroy the original one. We’ve got it all under control.” 

About 1,700 incorrect ballots were sent out to voters in Buchanan County. It’s unclear how many were issued in Vernon. 

It is the responsibility of the local election authorities to print and send ballots. 

Maura Browning, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, said the local election authorities would address the issue with voters. It’s unclear, however, what would happen should incorrect ballots be returned by voters. 

Ashcroft “has failed to administer a fair and honest election, instead introducing chaos and confusion by allowing language that the Western District Court has already ruled improper and incorrect to make it onto ballots that reached voters around the state,” Yinka Faleti, Ashcroft’s Democratic challenger, said. “Ashcroft should immediately apologize to the voters of Missouri for misleading language that is robbing Missourians of their right to vote objectively on Amendment 3 and use the CARES Act funding his office received months ago and still holds to fix this serious error. If he refuses to make the necessary corrections to comply with the appellate court order, it is time for him to step aside.” 

In August, Circuit Judge Patricia S. Joyce called the General Assembly’s drafted language for SJR 38 “misleading, unfair, and insufficient.” 

The contentious legislation, which passed out of the legislature in May, would make changes to the voter-approved Clean Missouri, implement a ban on certain lobbyist gifts to legislators, and lower Senate campaign contribution limits if approved in November. It also includes provisions on redistricting. 

The original summary as drafted by the General Assembly read: 

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

      • Ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators and their employees; 
      • Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits; and 
      • Create citizen-led independent bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts based on one person, one vote, minority voter protection, compactness, competitiveness, fairness and other criteria? 

The official ballot language is:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

    • Ban gifts from paid lobbyists to legislators and their employees; Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits;
    • Change the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by: (i) transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions; (ii) modifying and reordering the redistricting criteria?

The measure has been certified as Amendment 3 by the Secretary of State’s Office. 

“The original sin here was committed by the politicians who designed Amendment 3 to trick voters, so we need to make sure voters have accurate information about what is in the fine print of Amendment 3 straight away,” attorney Chuck Hatfield said in a statement. “The ballots need to be fixed immediately, and the voters who were given ballots with inaccurate information need to be notified about the false information they were given.” 

“Voters need to know how politicians are trying to trick them into passing Amendment 3,” said Sean Soendker Nicholson, campaign director for the No on 3 effort. “The amendment only changes lobbyist gift limits by $5, and only changes contribution limits by $100. That’s not reform — that’s a smokescreen to distract voters from the real goal of the plan, which is letting lobbyists and political operatives draw district maps to protect their favorite politicians.” 

Multiple lawsuits have been filed in Missouri over remote voting policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing U.S. Postal Service issues. Mail-in voting was authorized for the first time in Missouri for the 2020 elections by Gov. Mike Parson in response to the global health crisis. Absentee voting was also expanded to allow high-risk individuals to opt for absentee ballots without the need to have them notarized.