Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander is giving the public a sneak peak at potential ballot initiatives and a chance to comment about them before the petition-gathering begins.
Kander said Friday that initiatives submitted to his office will be posted online, and the public will have a five-day comment period before his office drafts summaries for the measures. The secretary of state's official summary is printed atop the petition pages that people sign and, if enough signatures are gathered, also appears on the ballot.
Kander, a Democrat, took office Jan. 14.
Under his predecessor, Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, people had to submit a request under Missouri's open-records law if they wanted to get a copy of a proposed initiative before Carnahan's office had prepared an official summary for it. There was no formal public comment period.
"When I traveled around the state, a lot of people asked me questions about this process and were concerned that it seemed to them to be done in secret, behind closed doors," Kander said. "So I decided to make the process more transparent and allow for public input."
Kander said he will accept comments about proposed initiatives via phone, mail or email.
Ballot initiative summaries prepared by the secretary of state's office have increasingly become subject to lawsuits, as advocates or opponents of the measures claim the wording is insufficient or unfair.
During last year's election, Kander's Republican opponent, former state Rep. Shane Schoeller, proposed establishing a commission with the authority to consider complaints about the fairness and accuracy of the initiative summaries written by the secretary of state. Commissioners would have been selected by legislative leaders. But Kander criticized the idea, suggesting a commission could inject more politics into the process.
Kander pledged Friday that "my office will always draft fair, easy-to-understand ballot summary language."
Carnahan already had written ballot summaries for 10 potential initiatives before leaving office. Those measures would restrict the use of eminent domain to take private property for public purposes, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, raise the state's minimum wage and limit the fees charged on payday loans. Those measures are posted on the secretary of state's website because they already have been approved for circulation by petition gatherers.
Kander said his policy of posting initiatives online before summaries are written — and seeking public comment — will begin with the next initiative petition that is submitted and meets the legal formatting requirements.