MPA Legislative Report: Secretary of State Budget Hearing and Election Notices

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The following report is from Missouri Press’ lobbying partners in Jefferson City. It should not be republished in your newspaper.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft met with the House Budget Committee on Feb. 10, reviewing his budget requests for Fiscal Year 2023 which begins July 1.

Ashcroft and the committee discussed with intensity the topic of election notices in newspapers for statewide ballot issues that are required by Missouri’s Constitution. With 2022 being an election year and several constitutional amendments expected on the ballot in either August or November, the secretary of state said he is seeking a $5.25 million budget to pay for election notices in newspapers.

Such subjects as recreational marijuana, ranked choice voting, sports gaming, and school choice are initiative petitions that may be on the statewide ballot, Ashcroft said.

Rep. Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) said he has filed a bill to allow some notices to be distributed electronically. Rep. Roberts said, “newspapers are fading.” Newspapers appreciate the money, but they are not efficient in distributing the notices, he said.

Rep. John Black (R-Marshfield) said he subscribes to both electronic and print versions of his local newspaper, but he agreed that changes are coming with public notices in newspapers.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern (D-Kansas City) said older voters such as her 95-year-old grandmother like the local newspaper and read the local newspaper, but Rep. Nurrenbern voiced the need for sample ballots to be more accessible in other ways than through newspapers. She also voiced her displeasure and difficulty to read tiny printed text of notices in newspapers.

Secretary Ashcroft said “newspapers know we are constitutionally required” to publish election notices statewide. He complained that some newspapers “jacked up their prices” a few years ago during an election cycle. “The newspapers will tell us what they charge us. Newspapers are happy to make their budgets off this,” he said.

Rep. Peggy McGaugh (R-Carrollton) told the committee she has been working with the Missouri Press Association to condense county financial statements to save counties money but to keep the statements published in local newspapers.

According to the Missouri Constitution, the complete text of a statewide ballot issue must be published in every county in local newspapers prior to election day. The Constitution says: “If possible, each proposed amendment shall be published once a week for two consecutive weeks in two newspapers of different political faith in each county, the last publication to be not more than 30 nor less than 15 days next preceding the election. If there be but one newspaper in any county, publication for four consecutive weeks shall be made.”

To change these provisions would require a constitutional amendment approved by a statewide vote of the people.

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