State House candidate wants Court ruling to keep her on Aug. 5 ballot

Natalie Vowell wants the Missouri Supreme Court to keep her name on next month's Democratic primary election ballot, so she can challenge incumbent state Rep. Penny Hubbard to represent a portion of St. Louis in the Legislature.

After Vowell filed for the office in March, Secretary of State Jason Kander decided in May not to certify her name for the ballot - because she's been registered to vote only since last July, and the state Constitution says each state representative must, on election day, "have been a qualified voter for two years and a resident of the county or district" for at least one year.

When she challenged Kander's decision, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled Vowell didn't even have legal standing to pursue that lawsuit. But the appeals court in Kansas City ruled last month that the legal standing issue is different from the qualifications question, and ordered Vowell's name back on the ballot.

"I would you like to reverse the trial court's judgment and issue an order requiring Natalie Vowell's name to remain on the ballot," attorney David Roland told the seven-judge Supreme Court Tuesday afternoon.

When Judge Paul Wilson asked if Roland didn't already have "everything you wanted" from the courts, Roland said if the court accepts Kander's argument that he has the authority to check whether candidates meet the qualifications, her candidacy still is in question.

"In the case in front of us, the secretary did accept the filing," Roland said, "and at that point, he no longer has discretion as to how he handles this declaration of candidacy."

Roland noted state law lets a candidate's opponents challenge a candidate's right to be on the ballot, or lets the House decide in January, if the candidate wins, whether that candidate is qualified to serve - but the law doesn't let the secretary of state make that decision once filing paperwork has been accepted.

But, Solicitor General James Layton asked the court, "Did the Legislature implicitly say to the secretary of state, "Even if, when you get this and you look it up, and you determine that this person is under-age or otherwise unqualified, you still have to put them on the ballot?

Roland said the other major issue is Vowell's decision not to register as a voter.

Vowell's decision to register, or not register, as a voter is a free-speech issue, he said, and a two-year registration requirement for candidates violates her First Amendment rights.

The court didn't indicate when it might issue its ruling.