JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Missouri ballot measures would need to be finalized earlier if legislation passed by the Senate on Thursday is signed into law, an effort to save money on reprinting ballots that last year cost the state close to $680,000.
The bill, approved 26-8, would set a deadline to change ballot measures about two months before an election, which is two weeks sooner than the generally accepted standard.
Current law allows measures to be finalized at any point within 180 days of an election, although absentee and military ballots must go out about six weeks early.
The legislation follows hundreds of thousands of dollars in reprinting expenses after a mid-September court ruling that required last-minute changes to the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment to create a limited early, no-excuses-needed voting period.
An appeals court panel said the summary drafted by Republican legislators was misleading, because it failed to note that the proposed six-day early voting period would occur only if state funding is provided.
The appeals judges ordered the funding contingency to be included in the ballot summary. Voters did not approve the measure.
Several counties at the time of the ruling had already started the process of printing absentee and military ballots. Reprinting those ballots cost the state $679,000, according to a revised estimate from the secretary of state.
An additional two weeks will help clerks preparing early ballots avoid those costs, said Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee's Summit Republican running for secretary of state in 2016, on Thursday.
Kraus last session handled the House measure for a six-day early voting that drew scrutiny. He's now sponsoring the legislation to set a deadline for changes to ballot initiatives or referendum.
"This is a reasonable approach to try to save taxpayer dollars so that we can use them in other areas of government," Kraus said during debate Tuesday.
Senate Democrats criticized the bill during debate earlier this week, citing time constraints that could make it more difficult to challenge unfairly worded measures in court.
Democrat Sen. Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur on Tuesday cited potential for the Legislature to approve a ballot measure on the last day of session, which falls in mid-May. If anyone wanted to challenge the wording of a measure approved that late in the year, Schupp said, a judge would have less than a month to rule on whether changes are necessary.
The eight-week deadline "makes it virtually impossible for someone who might want to challenge that ballot language," she said.
The measure now heads to the House.
Ballot measures bill is SB 104.
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