In a year when politics and a pandemic have heightened concerns about election integrity and access to voting, several of the candidates running for Missouri secretary of state want some broad changes to how people of the state vote.
Incumbent Republican Jay Ashcroft faces Democrat Yinka Faleti, Green Party candidate Paul Lehmann and Constitution Party candidate Paul Venable.
A fifth candidate on the ballot Nov. 3, Libertarian Carl H. Freese, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
President Donald Trump has made claims about mail-in voting fraud and other problems with election integrity, and meanwhile, actions of his administration's leader of the U.S. Postal Service sparked concerns about whether mailed ballots may be received in time to be counted.
In Missouri, there have been three lawsuits over the state's voting laws — laws already temporarily modified earlier this year to take into account people's health concerns related to voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, though the lawsuits argue the changes don't go far enough in giving people ways to vote without potentially exposing themselves to coronavirus or don't protect their ballots from not being counted because of mail delays and rejections because of envelope mistakes.
Ashcroft is a proponent of in-person voting at the polls or via the traditional absentee process — what he's said is the best way of ensuring a voter's ballot counts, as adding steps to the process increases the chances of mistakes.
However, Ashcroft added that after the coming election, his office would look back at how well mail-in and absentee voting by mail worked, and whether there should be any changes accordingly.
Faleti said he would like for there to be no excuse absentee voting, early voting, automatic voter registration and mail-in voting all the time, not just during 2020.
"Colorado is the gold standard for vote-by-mail, really the gold standard for all things voting," Faleti said, describing a system in which ballots are mailed to all registered voters, well ahead of the election, and are tracked through the process.
He added that the increase in the number of people voting in Colorado after changes were instituted — especially among young people, Latino and African American people — did not favor Republicans or Democrats over the other: "There was no partisan preference for this. No one party benefited."
However, Faleti said the first change he would push for as secretary of state would be for no excuse absentee voting — though another low-hanging fruit, he said, would be to distribute absentee voting drop boxes.
Lehmann is also a proponent of automatic voter registration and cited western states including Colorado as models for what could be a system that mails ballots out to citizens, who then would return them by mail or in-person to county clerks' offices or perhaps drop-boxes.
Voters would be identified by numbers assigned to them — like a Social Security number — issued upon being automatically registered.
There would be provisions for the handicapped and the blind, as well as electronic options for people with special needs who can't handle paper ballots.
Ashcroft said people not registering to vote is not a problem, but rather, if there's a problem, it's people registering but not participating.
He said, "It's easy to register," and people can make their own decisions.
If re-elected, Ashcroft said other priorities as secretary of state would include continuing a legislative retreat on education, further streamlining of office operations and updating of corporate laws to make it easier for people to start businesses and run them and finding ways for libraries to serve as engines for economic growth, job training and civic engagement.
He also said he would like the state's initiative petition process to be updated — not to make it more difficult to put something on the ballot but to have maybe a 60 percent supermajority have to approve state constitutional changes, in order to make the initiative petition process more competitive.
Faleti said he would ensure that if people want something on the ballot and they gather the needed signatures, then their issue should be on the ballot and be given fair language — a reference to ballot language for this year's Amendment 3 on redistricting changes that was struck down in court and had to be adjusted.
Venable said on the initiative petition process that he would like for a majority vote of a further majority — such as of House districts, for example — to be required to pass a ballot issue. In other words, more than half the people in each of more than half the House districts in the state might have to approve of an issue for it to be passed.
Venable also said he would be a proponent of giving people the ability to recall any elected official and having Missouri have a caucus system instead of a primary system for political parties to select their candidates.
He said he's putting together an initiative petition for the recall vote ability that he plans to pursue regardless of whether he wins this November.
He said a caucus system would get more people involved in the electoral process, and party's selection of their candidates would no longer be on the state's dime.
Venable also said a key issue for him is having all paper ballots in all elections be hand-counted — a move to build public trust and that could be more cost-effective.
He said New Hampshire could offer a model for hand-counting ballots.