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Ranked-choice voting proposal may miss Missouri ballot, campaign says

Better Elections campaign reports it may have missed target for initiative signatures

A proposal that would bring ranked-choice voting to Missouri as part of the biggest change in state elections since the introduction of the partisan primary may not have enough signatures to make the November ballot.

The constitutional amendment proposed by Better Elections needed at least 171,592 signatures, properly distributed among six of the state’s eight congressional districts, to qualify for the ballot. Despite turning in what the campaign said was more than 300,000 signatures, it may fall short, spokesman Scott Charton said Thursday.

“There may not be sufficient signatures under Missouri law to give voters a chance to say yes to the Better Elections Amendment,” a statement issued by the campaign stated. “The final counts from counties are still coming in, and we’re watching them closely.”

Charton said in an interview with The Independent that he could not say what issues have arisen with the verification or if the issue is how the signatures are distributed. He would not say which congressional districts the campaign had targeted during the signature drive.

Charton issued a statement about the possible shortfall Thursday afternoon to alert supporters, he said.

“It was important to us because we have so many supporters and people who are interested in political reform in Missouri, we wanted to be up front and let people know when this became apparent that it is only a delay and political change is coming,” Charton said.

The initiative would change the way both the primary and general elections are conducted. Instead of a separate primary for every recognized political party, with the winner securing a place on the November ballot, all candidates would be listed on a single ballot and the top four would move on to the general election.

Voters would make only one choice in the primary, but the general election would use ranked-choice voting. Voters could choose only one candidate or they could state their preferences. 

If one candidate receives a majority of the top-choice votes, they would be elected. If not, the candidate with the fewest top-choice votes would be eliminated and the votes distributed to the remaining candidates based on preference. The candidate with a majority would win.

Better Elections and Legal Missouri 2022, a campaign to legalize recreational use of marijuana, submitted signatures on May 8 to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office. The verification process is under way now, with signatures on each petition page being checked against voter rolls by local clerks and election authorities, and must be completed by the second week of August.

Ashcroft’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment on the Better Elections statement that it may not have sufficient signatures. 

Legal Missouri has not been alerted to any potential shortfalls among the almost 400,000 signatures it submitted, Dan Viets, LegalMo22 advisory board chairman, said Thursday.

“We don’t think there is any reason to doubt we have sufficient signatures,” Viets said.

Better Elections has raised at least $6.8 million, reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission show, and it spent $2.3 million for the services of FieldWorks LLC, to gather the signatures.

Legal Missouri, after consultation with Better Elections, decided to hire the same firm for efficiency and cost-savings, Viets said. The campaigns targeted the same six congressional districts, opting not to gather heavily in two mostly rural districts, the 4th District in west-central Missouri and the 8th District in southeast Missouri.

A constitutional amendment initiative targeting the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th districts needs at least 185,210 signatures to make the ballot.

The likelihood that the ranked-choice voting proposal would make the ballot was one of the reasons for legislative debate this year on bills to change the initiative process. Republicans tried to pass a constitutional amendment to require signatures to be gathered in all of the state’s congressional districts and to increase the majority needed to win approval. None of the bills passed.

Legal Missouri spent approximately $3.6 million on its signature effort, which began later than the Better Elections signature process.

One difference between the two campaigns, Viets said, was that Legal Missouri had the support of the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuanal Laws, or NORML, and other pro-legalization volunteers.

“A big chunk of our signatures were gathered by volunteers for the campaign,” Viets said.

Legal Missouri campaign manager John Payne also said there are no issues with the group’s petition.

The campaign submitted twice as many signatures as needed, Payne said.

“With such tremendous support from across Missouri, we’re confident that our petition language will soon be certified for the November general election ballot,” he said.

The Better Elections amendment will be back for another try, the campaign statement promised.

“One need only look at the recent dysfunction and chaos of the Missouri Legislature for evidence that things are off track,” Charton said in the statement. “Missourians still want and deserve better elections — the positive changes we all deserve are only delayed, not denied.”

This article by Rudi Keller is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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