Missouri lawmakers approve limiting time frame for challenges to ballot measure language

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — The Missouri Legislature sent Gov. Jay Nixon a measure Friday that supporters say would make things easier for county clerks and prevent reprinting costs when ballot measures are changed by courts close to an election.

Opponents of the measure charge it's an attempt to limit the ability of Missouri residents to challenge potentially misleading ballot descriptions written by the Republican-dominated Legislature. The bill would require any legal challenges to ballot language, which is the brief summary of a proposed constitutional amendment voters see at the polls, be resolved two months before an election.

"I'm not trying to stop the courts from doing anything. I'm just trying to help the clerks," said Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, who sponsored this measure. He also sponsored last year's constitutional amendment that reworded an early voting measure, leading to nearly $680,000 in unexpected printing costs. Kraus is also running for secretary of state.

An appeals court panel said last year's summary drafted by Republican legislators was misleading, because it failed to note that a proposed six-day early voting period would occur only if state funding is provided. Several counties at the time of the ruling had already started the process of printing absentee and military ballots, which must be sent out six weeks in advance.

"We're actually playing judge right here, we're telling the judiciary you can't do this," said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, during House debate Friday. "We're putting this in our statutes that there could never be any judicial review of anything that could go on an August ballot."

Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, who guided the measure in the House, said the issue would only arise if the governor chose to place a measure on the August ballot, as he has the authority to do. Dugger said he was more concerned about making sure that military and overseas voters get ballots on time.

The measure would also bar felons from running for office — a provision mistakenly deleted last year — and add a seventh member to the St. Louis Community College board of trustees. The bill also deletes a prohibition on former school district superintendents serving on the school board they worked for. That prohibition was added by lawmakers earlier this session when they voted to override Nixon's veto of another election bill.

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