JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With the highly anticipated primary elections underway, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft says Missouri is one of the nation’s leaders in election integrity thanks to the omnibus election bill signed into law this year.
“The legislature had a very difficult time getting stuff done this year, but they passed an incredible election bill,” Ashcroft told The Heartlander. “They truly passed a bill that should serve as a model for other states. Not just because of the components that were in it, but because it focused on access, security and credibility.”
House Bill 1878, sponsored by state Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, was passed just before the end of the 2022 legislative session to put several conservative election priorities into state statutes, including a government-issued photo ID requirement. It was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson on June 29.
“We saw a strengthening of our government-issued photo ID requirement, but it was done in such a way that if you’re registered, you can still vote,” Ashcroft said. “There will just be a bit more vetting of you if you don’t have that government-issued photo ID.”
Voters without photo ID will still be allowed to cast a provisional ballot on election day, but for it to count the voter must return later that day to present a photo ID.
Republicans around the country have prioritized voter ID laws particularly since the 2020 presidential vote, which left lingering election-integrity doubts. Fortunately, Ashcroft says, many of those concerns have been addressed by HB 1878’s signing into law and, thus, voters should feel “extremely confident” about the security of Missouri’s elections.
The secretary of state is now authorized to audit voter registration records of any election authority quarterly. If the state’s chief elections officer finds improper or illegal voter registrations, election authorities are required to remove the names in question.
The bill also banned ballot drop boxes – the centerpiece for illegal ballot harvesting – and further secures electronic ballot tabulation by prohibiting vote-counting machines from being connected to the internet.
The new law will phase out electronic vote-counting machines completely by 2024. Getting rid of the vote-counting machines will “make the paper ballot the official ballot of our elections, so that every vote will actually be written down on a physical piece of paper, and that paper will be read to count the votes,” Ashcroft said.
“So, if there are any discrepancies, we can go back and unseal that pile of papers and we can, by hand, with all the security and people watching, literally count every one of those ballots. We’ll no longer have to trust a computer to tell us the answer.”
Any election authority currently using the machines is able to continue doing so until Jan. 1, 2024. The law also requires each election authority to allow a cybersecurity review of its office by the secretary of state every two years.
“It’s all about those three standards of access, security and credibility,” the secretary reiterated.
Those three standards, Ashcroft says, are of utmost importance due to the vital role elections play in the functioning of society, adding that a lack of trust in the process would be detrimental to America’s very stability.
“First of all, if people don’t trust the process, they won’t participate,” he noted. “Our government was designed for citizen participation. People need to know that their vote counts so that they will participate. Secondly, if people don’t trust elections, then how do they trust the government as a whole? How do they trust the people that are making the decisions for them, if they don’t believe those people were appropriately elected?
“It is a cancer to our entire country and system of government if people can’t trust the electoral process, and it will create more and more disunity, antagonism and, eventually, it will tear our country to pieces.”
Ashcroft said he believes Missourians have great reason to trust the elections process in the state, and he isn’t alone. Last week, the America First Policy Center for Election Integrity (CEI) praised Missouri’s leadership for the state’s new election integrity measures.
CEI is a national group that monitors election laws across the country and rates states in three key areas of voter protection – requiring photo ID to vote, prohibiting ballot harvesting and returning ballots to election officials on election day.
“Under my leadership, Missouri has gone from red to green on the Center for Election Integrity’s rating system,” Ashcroft said. “This isn’t just about good policy – we listened to Missouri voters to secure our elections and enhance accessibility for all registered voters.”
The secretary reminded that the results posted on election night will be unofficial, saying “there is a process the local election authorities go through for about two weeks after the election to double- and triple-check votes.” Then, his office will audit those numbers and release certified results within a month after the election.
“We feel very confident in our elections, but we’re not going to stop worrying,” he said. “I believe it’s my job to worry so the people of the state don’t have to. And I believe that we should always be looking to make our processes and our systems better, more credible and more secure.
“We are now one of the best states, if not the best, for making sure every registered voter can vote. We’re making it much, much more difficult to cheat, and we’re making sure people can trust their elections. Voting is a right, and a responsibility. So please, educate yourself, find out what’s on the ballot, and then make your voice heard on Tuesday.”