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Missouri Republican proposes election legislation

By CHRIS BLANK

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Republican Missouri secretary of state candidate Shane Schoeller outlined proposals Thursday that would require photo identification to vote and overhaul the process for handling ballot measures and legislative redistricting.

The proposals would create two state commissions with authority over ballot summaries for initiative petitions and responsibility for drawing new borders for Missouri’s 163 state House districts and 34 state Senate districts. It also adds a new hurdle when lawmakers want to change voter-passed laws. The Legislature would be required to pass any alterations with a greater majority than that which approved the ballot measure initially.

Schoeller, who is the Missouri House speaker pro tem, said he planned to file the legislative package for the lawmakers’ annual session that starts in January. New legislation can begin to be filed next month.

“These election reforms will help overhaul Missouri’s election system to provide voter protections we need,” Schoeller said.

Missouri ballot measures have gotten significant attention in recent elections as groups have sought state laws and constitutional amendments that cover issues such as regulation of dog breeders, renewable energy and gambling. There has been recent criticism over the fairness of the ballot summaries that are written by the secretary of state’s office for initiatives and over several attempts in the Legislature to make significant changes to voter-approved laws.

Schoeller said it makes sense to create a higher threshold for lawmakers to change a law that first has been approved by voters. He also proposed to create a state Fair Ballot Commission that could reject ballot summaries drafted by the secretary of state’s office and write their own instead. Members of that committee would be appointed by the House and Senate leaders and their minority party counterparts.

Another new state commission to be created would be tasked with developing a state Legislature redistricting plan that lawmakers would have to approve without making changes. Schoeller said he modeled the idea after a process used in Iowa and favored it because it would force redistricting to focus on population changes and not politics.

Missouri currently uses two state commissions that are represented evenly by Republicans and Democrats. If the commissions are unable to agree, a panel of state appeals court judges is responsible for developing the new map. The commissions were unable to reach agreement this year, and the judicial panel is working on developing the districts.

Schoeller’s proposed also takes another stab at a photo ID requirement for voters, which has been a recurring legislative fight in Missouri.

The state Supreme Court struck down a photo ID law in 2006, ruling that it infringed on the fundamental right to vote granted by the Missouri Constitution. Earlier this year, the Republican-led Legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for a photo ID mandate and set parameters for an early voting period. Separate legislation implementing those provisions was vetoed, and the constitutional amendment faces a legal challenge.

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