Move underway to expand early voting in Missouri

St. LOUIS – Voters here in the Show Me State may have a special reason to get out the vote this fall, as a coalition of faith groups, community organizations, students, small businesses and unions are busily collecting signatures to qualify an early voting initiative to be placed on the November ballot.

The initiative would expand early voting in Missouri to six weeks, while simultaneously, making accessible the names and addresses of registered voters who have already cast their ballot.

Many community groups, unions, and other democratic organizations, consider this initiative a game-changer. Not only will grassroots organizations be able to mobilize registered voters over a longer period of time to cast ballots, but they will also be able to check and see who has actually voted – thereby focusing their voter turnout energies on members and households in target districts. 

Seen by most as a considerable expansion of democracy, the initiative will help eliminate long lines on election day – especially in understaffed and over-crowded precincts  – while ensuring that those individuals who may need to cast a provisional ballot will have the time to double check on their voting status and address other problems.

Especially significant is the impact the early voting initiative – if passed – will have on working class, African American, women, senior, student, and disabled voters, all groups historically disenfranchised. Additionally, with a six week early voting window, it will be easier for all voters to cast ballots – as they will be able to better arrange their work schedules, child care needs, and rides to the polls, for example. 

According to Richard Von Glahn, organizing director for Missouri Jobs with Justice, “Low wage workers, folks working two or more jobs – sometimes working from 6 a.m. to noon at the first job, and then 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the second” understandably have a hard time making it to the polls. “This initiative will help make sure they are able to vote.”

Not only will the ballot initiative increase voter turnout during the up-coming November mid-term elections – as advocates of expanding democracy will work overtime to ensure its passage – but it will also increase voter turnout during the all-important 2016 presidential election.

“In 2013 over one third of registered voters did not vote,” Von Glahn added, “which suggests there is something wrong with a system that offers the right, but not the ability for people to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.”

Some supporters even speculate that the initiative will increase the Democratic turnout by 2 or 3 percentage points, possibly giving progressive forces just enough of an edge to turn Missouri Blue.

The ballot initiative process in Missouri is one of the most successful tactics employed by progressive forces here in the Show Me State, as the far-right Republican controlled House and Senate have repeatedly blocked legislative avenues for the expansion of democracy.

Instead, they are more focused on trying to pass so-called voter I.D. laws, which would disenfranchise tens-of-thousands of voters, especially seniors, students and African Americans.

Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia, have early voting. While the dates in-which early votes can be cast differ from state-to-state – some begin as early as 45 days before the election, while others as late as the Friday before an election – the average early voting start-time is 22 days before the election. And at least 12 of the 32 early voting states require that vote centers be open on at least one Saturday or Sunday during the early voting period.

Furthermore, 27 states and the District of Columbia offer “no excuse” absentee voting, thereby allowing any registered voter for any reason to request an absentee ballot.

Over the next few months Missourians will need to collect over 200,000 signatures to qualify the ballot initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office. However, if they are successful and the initiative is put on the November ballot, it will likely pass, as voters overwhelmingly – even republican voters – support expanding access to our sacred franchise.

And years from now 2014 may be seen as a turning point for Missouri politics – a turn away from voter disenfranchisement and towards expanding democracy.

Photo: AP


Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.