House backs early voting proposals

The Missouri House endorsed two related proposals to allow early voting Thursday.

Missourians would be able to cast their ballots early under legislation endorsed by the state House of Representatives Thursday morning.

Wide bipartisan margins sent a constitutional amendment and a companion bill authorizing early voting to the Senate. The amendment would allow early voting to begin on the third Saturday before an election and end on the last Tuesday before an election while the companion bill would require each county to set up one advance voting center. Early voting would not be permitted for local elections. Bill sponsor Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said cutting off early voting a week before Election Day would allow election officials time to arrange their books and make sure people do not try to vote again in the same election.

Some lawmakers objected to the fact that Dugger's proposals do not permit voting on Sundays. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, said workers need to be able to vote on Sundays. She and Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, both called the proposals red herrings meant to confuse voters and secretly restrict voting rights. Similar initiative petitions currently circulating would allow voting for six weeks prior to Election Day, including Sundays.

"This bill is about further denying voting rights with a fake title of early voting," Newman said.

Newman's comments sparked an argument between her and Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, who accused Newman of "trying to redefine the word 'early.'"

"We have an extension of the time period in which people can vote in this state," Barnes said. "That is an extension of voting."

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, disagreed with her colleagues. She said Dugger's proposals were a good backup option in case the initiatives do not make it on the ballot.