Missouri’s Secretary of State is making a splash about a drop in the state budget bucket, drained by House Republicans. Jason Kander is upset with the Missouri House of Representatives vote to strip additional funding from his office’s Elections Integrity Unit. Kander started the unit last year after he was sworn in to office.
“I am disappointed that Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives are less interested in protecting the integrity of our elections than I am. I started the Elections Integrity Unit to investigate both voter fraud and voter access issues,” said Kander.
The Republican-led house approved an amendment on March 25 to remove $79,900 from the budget outlined in House Bill 2012. The bill appropriates money for the expenses, grants, refunds, and distributions of statewide elected officials, the Judiciary, Office of the State Public Defender, and General Assembly. That budget includes the Secretary of State’s office, and the $79,900 Kander requested for hiring two new full-time employees (FTEs) for the Elections Integrity Unit.
The amendment stripping the additional funding for the unit passed 102-47. At the time of the vote, the Missouri House had 163 members - 108 Republicans and 52 Democrats. At the time, there were three vacant seats in the House. In the vote on the amendment to HB 2012, all 102 Republicans present voted for the amendment. All 47 Democrats present voted against it. Six Republicans and five Democrats were absent for the vote. Since the vote was taken, Rep. Rory Ellinger, (D) St. Louis County, died of cancer, creating another vacancy in the House.
The unanimous Republican vote upsets Kander because of an earlier unanimous vote on HB 2012.
“It has been a great success, which is one of the reasons why the House Budget Committee voted unanimously to fund the unit,” said Kander.
In fact, 20 Republicans on the House Budget committee did vote for HB 2012, including the additional money for the Elections Integrity Unit. That vote took place March 13, when the committee of 20 Republicans and 10 Democrats voted unanimously to give the bill a “do pass” recommendation. A staff member for committee chairman Rick Stream, (R) Kirkwood, confirmed that the committee voted 29 in favor, none against.
Secretary of State Kander said it’s pure politics. “This decision by House Republicans shows that they are more interested in scoring political points than actually doing anything to take on voter fraud and voter access issues.”
Five Republican House members from the Ozarks sit on the House Budget committee: Eric Burlison (133) of Springfield, Kevin Elmer (139) of Nixa, Lincoln Hough (135) of Springfield, Jeffrey Messenger (130) of Greene County and Robert Ross (142) of Yukon in Texas County. Requests for comment on the budget votes were sent to each of these members, as well as the chairman of the committee, Rep. Rick Stream of Kirkwood. A separate request was sent to Rep. John Diehl of suburban St. Louis, seeking comment on his sponsorship of the amendment that removed the funding. Burlison, Elmer and Diehl responded to our inquiry.
Republicans say Kander’s remarks don’t tell the whole story.
Burlison said, “I have always supported increasing the integrity of our election process, which is why I supported the unusual request made by SOS Kander to increase his FTE's. We learned later on the house floor from the amendment sponsor that the SOS has not even utilized the 11 FTE's that he has been allotted. Having used no more than 9 FTE's during the last two years including during the 2012 election it is clear that the SOS has yet to prove that he will utilize the FTE's that are allocated to his budget.”
Diehl said the Secretary of State’s office has plenty of money, receiving $3 million more in the proposed 2015 budget than it did in 2014. It should be noted that the August primary and November general election in 2014 fall in Fiscal Year 2015, which begins on July 1. There were no major primary or general elections in August or November 2013, which fell in FY ’14. Kander’s office responds, saying while it does have 10 people working in the Elections division; none are specifically assigned to the Elections Integrity Unit.
Diehl also said his amendment aimed to re-direct funding to Utilitcare, a state program to help low income people pay their utility bills. “Writing the state budget is about making choices, “ Diehl said. “Jason Kander is attempting to score cheap political points at the expense of our state's neediest citizens at a time when many are struggling to pay higher utility bills during one of our coldest winters. He has chosen to score those points over $79,000 in his nearly $46.2 million budget. That equates to less than one-fifth of one percent of his overall budget. Now, when you compare that with how far $79,000 will go to help assist our state's neediest citizens in heating their homes, I will side with funding Utilicare rather than an elected official that has grown his budget by over 7%.”
Kander’s office countered, saying, “Utilicare is an important program, but funding for it was primarily secured through multiple amendments that preceded the House majority’s action to strip funding from the Elections Integrity Unit. “
Elmer added that he and his Republican colleagues have their own ideas about elections integrity. “If our current Secretary of State wants to be serious about protecting the integrity of our elections process, he can do it quite easily by joining us in supporting voter identification requirements.”
Diehl agreed, “I believe the surest way to protect the sanctity of elections in Missouri is by requiring voters to show photo identification. “
The House has passed HB 1073 this session, which requires photo ID to vote. It received a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections committee and now awaits action from the full Senate. HB 1073 would put the issue before Missouri voters in the form of a constitutional amendment. Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a photo ID bill in 2011. Spokesman Scott Holste said the Governor rejected the bill because Nixon believes it would have a disproportionate impact in disenfranchising seniors and those with disabilities. A letter from Nixon explaining the veto said seniors and the disabled are often less likely to have a driver’s license or other government issued photo ID.
Kander’s office says photo ID is a non-starter for him. “There is no proof that implementing extreme voter photo identification requirements would have any impact on fraud since there hasn’t been a case of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri. Secretary Kander opposes the proposal because it prohibits many forms of photo ID that one would expect to be able to use, including student IDs, certain military and state IDs, and out-of-state driver licenses. In fact, 220,000 registered voters don’t currently have the identification the bill requires. Secretary Kander will oppose any measure that would keep a single eligible voter from voting.”
Kander created the Elections Integrity Unit when he took office in 2013. To date, it has handled 11 complaints from the around the state, including two for elections scheduled for later this year. The first investigation covered a complaint about an election in Webster County in April 2013. In that case, the unit investigated the mayor’s election in Fordland, which was decided by only three votes. Residents raised concerns that some people may have voted both absentee and in person. The investigation matched the total voter roll for Fordland against the record of registered voters who actually cast a ballot on April 2. The review found no evidence that anyone voted twice.
In another case from the Ozarks, the Secretary of State’s office referred a case from Douglas County back to the local prosecutor to determine if any action was necessary. It involved alleged irregularities in the municipal election in Ava on April 2, 2013. In that case, Lonnie Atchison lost the mayor’s race to incumbent Eddie Maggard by four votes. According to Prosecuting Attorney Roger Wall, Atchison filed a complaint. The sheriff’s office investigated, and found that seven people who lived outside of Ava did vote in the race. However, investigators reported no evidence of intentional wrong doing and no action was taken. Wall says the complaint was dropped because Atchison aimed legal action at the wrong target. Atchison filed suit against the County Clerk. Wall says in a contested election, the losing candidate who feels compelled to take legal action should sue the winning candidate. That’s what happened in the contested presidential election in 2000, which spawned the case of “Gore v. Bush.” Atchison did not sue Maggard, and the judge threw out the case when the deadline for filing the election challenge had passed.
In a case from Phelps County, the unit referred a complaint from the January 2013 election held by the University of Missouri Extension Council to the University’s General Counsel.
“Everything the Elections Integrity Unit examines is online and accessible so Missourians can see the work my office is doing to keep our elections secure and fair I am hopeful that the Senate will restore funding to the Elections Integrity Unit to show Missourians that this state has zero tolerance for voter fraud.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee sent the budget bill out of committee with a “do pass” recommendation on April 9, and restored the $79,900 to the Secretary of State’s budget. A staff member for Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, (R) Columbia says the fate of the $79,900 is now in the hands of the House and Senate negotiators who will have to agree on a budget before the legislature adjourns on May 16.