Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft dropped by The Rolla Daily News on a warm Tuesday afternoon to update the newsroom on initiatives since he took office in the general election. Some of it is nuts and bolts, but everyone can learn something from this conversation.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft dropped by The Rolla Daily News on Tuesday afternoon to update the newsroom on initiatives since he took office in the general election. He likes stopping in Rolla and seeing his old alma mater ’s town, where he received a degree in engineering management from RMU (now Missouri S&T), back in ’96.
He had just toured the hard hit flood areas in southeastern Mo. and the counties hit hard by the storms in the southern Ozarks. Ashcroft said there are still around a hundred families in Carter County that lost their homes to the flooding. His office has also been helping the Carter County clerk with hard-copy county records preservation. The county was able to get an 18-wheeler freezer truck to store the records until they can be cleaned up enough to be scanned for digital records. Once scanned, he expects the physical records to be unsalvageable. Carter county also lost all of their voting equipment.
“This is quite an economic problem for them and we want to do all we can to help,” said Ashcroft. We’re also trying to add our voice to the chorus of people saying, “the disaster occurred, the evidence is clear—where are the FEMA trailers?”
“We know these people need places to live and we need to start getting supplies down to them.”
He also mentioned the Business Services Division is waiving fees and getting those business owners effected by the flooding, the documents they need to continue their businesses.
The conversation turned to what has been accomplished in Jefferson City since last fall’s election.
“It’s really easy to go to Jefferson City as a state-wide official and think you’re big stuff, but I don’t have a vote in the legislature—not in the Senate, not in the House,” he said.
HIs office has needed resources and he says the legislature has been good to fulfill those resources.
“We needed a budget for photo ID [and got it],” he explained. Ashcroft’s office received $1.5 million to fund the law (HB12) which goes into effect June1, 2017.
“I’ve been a strong supporter of photo ID, but I’ve always been very clear that we need to implement it in a way that every registered voter is allowed to vote.”
When asked about the recently struck-down photo ID law in North Carolina, Ashcroft says it will have no affect on Missouri’s efforts.
“There are some real differences between the NC and MO law,” he explained.
“The NC law was a very broad voting change law. They changed photo ID, same day registration and the early voting time period.”
In essence, Ashcroft says there was too much in the bill which opened it up for more scrutiny by the lower courts.
“One of the things we tried to do this session, is we had individuals that wanted to make changes to the electoral code to the election process that weren’t of an immediate nature,” he said.
“We really worked with the legislatures and politely asked them to hold off, because people were confused about photo ID.”
Secretary Ashcroft didn’t want to muddy the water with more demands that could lead to what just happened in North Carolina.
“People need to understand the photo ID change, before we look at something else,” he reasons.
“This summer, we’re looking at elections and how they’re run in this state. Unfortunately, we have a lot of organizations that are going around telling people they support the right to vote and they’re protecting the right to vote, but they’re telling people they won’t be able to vote [with a photo ID requirement].”
Sec. Ashcroft touted his “Safe at Home” Victim Protection Law (SB34). The law is an address confidentiality protection for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, rape or human trafficking. It simply makes it more difficult for judges to require a person enrolled in the “Safe at Home” program to divulge their address in court.
The discussion then centered on initiative and referendum petitions that have been filed with the Secretary of State’s office that have been accepted to circulate for comments, such as a proposed increase in the minimum wage law. There are 21 initiative petitions that have met the state standards, according to the Sec. of State website, sos.mo.gov/petitions/.
“Historically, if you look at other states, through the initiative petition process, it (a minimum wage increase) has been successful,” he said.
Ashcroft said his office has seen more initiative petitions (around 220) than ever before, which shows the democratic process in action.
“It is right and appropriate that the people have a right to say, “No, you need to deal with this issue,” but I think we also have to understand that the basis of this country is not a democracy—it is liberty,” he cautions.
“We’ve always had a quasi-majority rule, but we want to protect the rights of the minority.”
Ashcroft says he likes the initiative petition process, but he hopes people will use it to increase liberty and not just accept that anything that is passed by the will of the people is inherently good.
Initiative petitions are different from referendum petitions which his office also handles. Referendum petitions can be filed through the Secretary of State’s office and signatures can be collected in an effort to change a bill that has been passed by the House and Senate. Once the required number of signatures are collected for a petition within a deadline and verified, Ashcroft’s office prepares a summary statement of no more than 100 words. The state auditor also prepares a fiscal impact statement and both are then subject to approval by the attorney general. When both statements are approved, they become the language that appears on the ballot for an eligible voter decision.
Ashcroft says an example of a referendum petition that has been filed would be the Right to Work bill passed by the legislature this year, due to go into effect on Aug. 28 of this year.
“[Those that oppose the bill] have until August 28 to collect signatures,” he notes. If the required number of signatures are collected by the deadline and verified, the Right to Work Law will not go into effect when it is supposed to, even though it has been signed into law by Gov. Greitens. In other words, there is a “stay” put in place on the legislation. Then, the legislation will have to wait until it can be decided by the voters in the next state-wide general election in 2018.
Initiative petitions have also been filed on this legislation according to Ashcroft.
“I love this idea that the people of the state have this final recourse,” he said.
Secretary Ashcroft campaigned on the premise that he will clean up ballot language on initiatives, but he laments the difficulty of saying what needs to be said within 100 words. He’d like 200 words, but the eight people that get involved in the process (communications professionals and attorneys) are charged with the task of editing so the language is notably clear and concise.
“We take it seriously, because all some people will see is that simple ballot language,” he says, as opposed to being familiar with the full amendment text.
A final question for Secretary Ashcroft pertained to President Trump’s charge of the occurrence of voter fraud.
“I think it’s a good thing we’re looking into voter fraud,” he said.
“We know it occurs, but I think it’s safe to say that most people have just tried to sweep it under the rug. That does a disservice to the people in this country and the people of this state if we don’t protect their sufferage.”