The Missouri House has given first-round approval to two measures to establish early voting, also known as "advance voting."
The first, House Joint Resolution 90, would allow for early voting if voters pass a proposed constitutional amendment. The second is the implementing bill, HB 2271.
The overall proposal would create a nine-day early voting period beginning on the third Saturday before Election Day and ending on the last Tuesday before Election Day. Early voting would take place 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday; and during a four-hour time period to be scheduled between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday. Voting on Sundays would be prohibited. (Currently, Missouri has no early voting. It does allow absentee voting if a voter is going to be out of the jurisdiction on Election Day.)
While Democrats on the House floor supported early voting, most of them opposed the Republican-backed proposal because of the limited hours on Saturdays and total ban on Sundays. State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, called it a sham and a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
"Why would a (political) party (that) has a recurring history, particularly the past nine years here in Missouri and in almost every state in the union, a recurring history of making it harder to vote, actually now be interested in providing more access?" Newman said.
Newman was referring to the GOP's push to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.
Newman and other Democrats argued that a similar initiative petition currently being circulated would be a better option: It would allow early voting for a six-week period, including Sundays. Newman questioned whether the GOP's proposal was an attempt to circumvent the citizens initiative petition.
Republicans argued that their early voting proposal would expand opportunities for more people to vote. The sponsor, state Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, added that allowing voting on Sundays would create an undue burden on election workers in Missouri.
"Early voting would absolutely put thousands of people back to work on Sunday, from the secretary of state's office to every county clerk's office of this state, and (at) every voting center that it would set up," Dugger said. "I don't think Sunday is a good day to be voting."
House Joint Resolution 90 was perfected on a voice vote, while HB 2271 was approved on a roll-call vote, 130-14. About a dozen Democrats joined the GOP majority in voting "yes." Two Republicans, Paul Curtman of Pacific and Jeff Pogue of Salem, broke ranks and joined most Democrats in voting "no." The two pieces of legislation that make up the early voting proposal each need one more vote by the full House before moving to the Missouri Senate.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport