Senate endorses Missouri early voting measure

Missouri voters could cast ballots during several weekdays before Election Day under an early voting measure endorsed Tuesday by the state Senate.

The proposed constitutional amendment approved by senators would allow ballots to be cast on six business days ending the Wednesday before the election. In-person ballots would be cast during the regular business hours of local election officials, who could not take any action or incur expenses for early voting unless funding was included in the state budget.

The Republican-led Senate approved the early voting measure on a 22-8 party-line vote in the early morning hours. That vote sends the proposal back to the House, and lawmakers have until 6 p.m. Friday to pass new legislation. If passed by the Legislature, the early voting measure would appear on the November ballot unless Gov. Jay Nixon sets a different election date.

However, another early voting proposal also could be heading for the ballot. A proposed initiative petition would allow a six-week voting period and require officials to accommodate early voting Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections. Supporters have said they gathered about 300,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. A former chief of staff for Attorney General Chris Koster is the campaign treasurer.

Missourians currently can cast absentee ballots under limited circumstances, such as if they will be out-of-town on Election Day.

Sen. Will Kraus said the Legislature’s proposal would allow those who wish to vote early to do so while controlling costs and protecting the election process. Critics contend lawmakers’ proposal doesn’t go far enough, and Senate Democrats voted against it.

The Legislature’s measure also states it would not be repealed or invalidated by constitutional amendment unless it is expressly referenced.