Kander hopes lawmakers deal with voting, campaign issues

“Missouri is far behind the rest of the country” when it comes to early voting and campaign finance and ethics laws, new Secretary of State Jason Kander told fellow lawyers last week at the Missouri Bar’s spring meeting.

Kander, D-Kansas City and a former state representative, wants his former colleagues to fix those problems before they end this year’s legislative session at 6 p.m. Friday.

“They wouldn’t have to suspend any rules in order to make it a priority, move it out of the Elections Committee in the House and get it done,” Kander told the News Tribune Friday. “I believe that can be done. I believe it should be made a priority.

“This is something that Missourians want.”

During his 14-minute address at the Bar’s Friday luncheon, Kander urged the lawyers to contact their own representatives and senators, to push for the passage of those priorities.

“I believe that we should be looking for ways to make voting more convenient for eligible Missourians, and we should be focused on trying to create a system for campaign finance and for ethics that deserves the public’s trust,” Kander said. “Unfortunately, instead, there are folks in this town who are more focused on making it harder for people to vote, who have been voting in elections for a long time, and who are eligible voters.

“And these folks have no sense of urgency to fix what is, frankly, the most broken set of campaign finance and ethics laws in the entire country.”

After taking office Jan. 10, Kander created a bipartiasan task force of citizens, elected officials and others to look at election issues — especially those long lines some voters experienced last November.

“They met for weeks and came up with a set of recommendations that, I think, are commonsense solutions to decrease lines, and increase convenience for eligible voters in Missouri.”

Under current state law, voters wishing to cast an “absentee ballot” must give election officials a reasons for needing to do so — such as being away at college, or being out of town on a business trip, or having a medical condition you know won’t let you get to the polls during an Election Day’s 13-hour voting window.

Kander wants a new law “allowing voters to cast absentee ballots by mail, without needing to swear to an excuse; allowing registered voters to cast ‘early ballots’ at central voting locations up to six weeks before election day; and creating satellite early voting locations for November presidential elections.”

But that bill remains in the House Elections Committee, where it was assigned on March 28.

The committee never scheduled a hearing.

“It has bipartisan support in both chambers,” Kander told the lawyers Friday afternoon. “If it were to come up for a vote, it would pass, by a pretty substantial margin.”

For several years, now, Missouri has had no restrictions on candidates’ ability to raise money for their elections campaigns.

Kander told the lawyers Friday: “We are the only state in the entire country that allows lawmakers to take unlimited, personal gifts from lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions from anyone.

“It’s something that should be urgent for our Legislature.”

But year after year, campaign finance and ethics reform measures go nowhere.

“It’s really about making sure that Missourians have an equal voice” in influencing the choice of election winners and, later, the laws they consider, Kander told the News Tribune.

There’s no question that there are unfairly weighted voices when you have unlimited campaign contributions,” he said. “The fact that we have the worst campaign finance and ethics laws in the entire country (is) something that should outrage all of us.”

Senate leaders didn’t mention either bill last week, when talking with reporters about the debate priorities for the Legislature’s final week this session.

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