Missouri is one of just 13 states without early voting. It’s way past time to fix that

Eddy Estrada sends stacks of freshly cut mail-in ballots at a Florida Internal Services Department print shop.
Eddy Estrada sends stacks of freshly cut mail-in ballots at a Florida Internal Services Department print shop. The Miami Herald

On Nov. 6, hundreds of thousands of Missourians will stand in line, perhaps for hours, waiting to cast ballots in the crucial midterm elections.

They can blame recalcitrant state leaders for their inconvenience. Missouri remains one of just 13 states to prohibit early voting, or no-excuse absentee voting. With registrations hitting records in some counties, the lack of an early voting option virtually guarantees confusion and inconvenience at the polls.

There is no excuse for this approach. There is, however, an explanation: Many in the Republican Party, which controls Missouri’s legislature, the secretary of state’s office and the governor’s mansion, believe early voting would lead to more voters. And more voters, they think, would benefit Democrats.

The lack of early voting is damaging enough. But it’s only a part of a clear pattern in this state, one designed to limit voter access to a fair, representative democracy.

Some Republicans are howling, for example, about the Clean Missouri initiative, also known as Amendment 1 on the November ballot. Why? Because they realize drawing legislative districts fairly will dilute their power in Jefferson City. Better to hold on to power by gerrymandering districts.

The Missouri GOP has pushed for a photo ID requirement at the polls for years, another clear attempt to depress turnout. This week, a judge ordered the state to rewrite the document that voters without ID must sign to cast a ballot, but otherwise left photo ID intact.

A reminder: If you are registered to vote in Missouri but lack a photo ID, you can still cast ballot by providing non-photo identification and signing a statement attesting to your identity.

In September, a federal judge said Missouri had not followed parts of the National Voter Registration Act. The judge ordered the state to do more to help notify voters who move and need to register again.

All of these examples reflect a disturbing effort to make it harder for Missourians to vote.

To their credit, they will not be dissuaded from exercising that right. In August, 1.4 million Missourians cast ballots, the highest turnout for a primary in a decade. Voter registration, which ended Wednesday, has reached a record level in some places. Energy is high.

State leaders should respond to this enthusiasm for popular government. This must be the last major election in the state without an early voting option. The state’s photo ID law must be clarified. Automatic, undisciplined voter registration purges must be outlawed.

In short, Missouri must make it easier to register and easier to vote. Anything less will be seen, correctly, as an effort to manipulate the voter rolls for partisan advantage. That has no place in a representative democracy.