Voting rights controversies around the nation have transformed secretary of state offices from sleepy political outposts to hot seats.
That certainly is so in Missouri, where two ambitious state legislators are vying for the seat being vacated by Democrat Robin Carnahan, who is retiring.
The race takes on added significance because of the proliferation of initiative petition ballot issues in Missouri. The states chief elections officer must be smart, fair and a person of highest integrity.
The Star strongly recommends Democrat Jason Kander of Kansas City for Missouri secretary of state.
A lawyer and former Army captain, Kander spent time in Afghanistan investigating suspected government corruption, espionage and drug trafficking.
He was first elected to the Missouri House in 2008 and has made ethics reform his signature issue, calling for limits on political donations and less influence by lobbyists. Missourians could expect his work as secretary of state to be untainted by politics or favoritism.
The Republican candidate is Shane Schoeller of Willard, Mo., near Springfield. He is completing his third term in the House.
Schoeller is centering his campaign on a call for restrictions on voting. He favors requiring proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote, as well as government-issued photo identification at the polling place.
There is no evidence that voter impersonation at the polls is a problem in Missouri. But a 2009 study estimated that about 230,000 state residents are registered to vote but lack a government issued photo ID. A secretary of state should be commited to removing barriers to voting, not erecting them.
Schoeller this year sponsored a bill that would have stopped absentee voters from returning ballots by mail. Kander and others correctly protested that such a move would disenfranchise Missourians serving in the military.
Schoeller eventually removed the restriction. It was part of a bill which closely mirrored legislation drafted in Kansas by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Kobach, a lawyer who works nationally on laws encouraging profiling and harassment of immigrants, is scheduled to campaign with Schoeller today. Thats not an encouraging sign.
Schoellers support from St. Louis multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield is another source of concern.
Sinquefield frequently sponsors statewide ballot initiatives calling for draconian changes in Missouris tax structure and other matters. It would help him greatly to have a friendly secretary of state to write the ballot language for his initiatives.
So far Sinquefield has given Schoeller $400,000 for his campaign, and he has scheduled an upcoming fundraiser. Sinquefield is by far Schoellers largest contributor.
Missouris wide-open campaign finance laws, which Kander has tried to fix, are the problem here. But the spectacle of Sinquefield bankrolling a candidate who would be in a position to do him multiple favors does nothing to increase confidence in the system.
Schoeller also showed questionable judgment by benefiting financially from a lucrative motor vehicle licensing office in Nixa for three years while he served in the state legislature.
The contract, awarded on a patronage basis at the time, was held by Schoellers wife. But a Missouri statute forbids members of the General Assembly or their spouses from performing any service for the state for any consideration of more than $1,500 a year, unless the contract is gained through a public competitive bidding process.
The choice in this race is clear. Kander has fought for cleaner and more accessible government. Schoeller has worked to create barriers for others while using a flawed system to benefit himself.
Kander is the candidate Missouri needs for secretary of state.