If you care about the democratic process, you might be interested in the Secretary of State's race.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series offering primers on the candidates and issues on the November 2020 ballot.

If you care about the democratic process, you might be interested in the Secretary of State’s race.

The winner of the race will be Missouri’s chief elections official for the next four years, a job that gives them a hand in nearly every part of the elections process.  

They’re also in charge of processing statewide citizen petitions and writing fair ballot language to describe them to voters.

When not working directly on elections, the Secretary of State regularly lobbies the legislature to pass bills improving the elections process for voters and administrators.

They also keep state records, help businesses register in the state, investigate securities fraud and oversee grants for local libraries.

Here are your choices this fall:

Jay Ashcroft

Ashcroft, 47, is the Republican incumbent running for a second term in the office.

Before entering politics, he practiced law at a St. Louis firm led by his father, John Ashcroft, the former governor, U.S. senator and Attorney General.

In an interview, the younger Ashcroft pitched himself as someone who’s gotten things done, most notably during the pandemic, when he’s gone against the national grain by urging people to vote in person.

“Other states are having difficulty holding elections during COVID, they're sending ballots to the wrong people, there's all sorts of problems,” he said, “but in Missouri, we've had three successful elections under COVID and we are in great shape to have a fourth one.”

(In fairness to those other states, Missouri has had hiccups: trouble with ballot printing companies led to absentee ballotscoming in a day late in Pulaski County and more than 1,000 ballots with incorrect language on Amendment 3going out in Vernon and Buchanan counties. But in Missouri, local authorities are in charge of those issues, not the state.)

Ashcroft also noted he pushed for a bill in 2018 that required people to request absentee at least 14 days before Election Day rather than six.

He said it’s really paid off this year amid worries that the U.S. Postal Service won’t be able to deliver ballots on time.

Ashcroft also touted his work outside of elections in lobbying the legislature to allow notaries to handle documents electronically and ramp up penalties on people who defraud seniors.

“I think our office has accomplished more legislatively than any other statewide (elected official) has,” he said, notinghe’s also organized retreats for lawmakers to hear about the latest research in education policy.

In a speech to supporters in February, he also promised to revive a controversial voter ID law struck down by the courts earlier this year.

The law required people with non-photo IDs such as election cards or bank statements to swear they were who they said they were before voting, but the state Supreme Court said that was “misleading,” “contradictory” and unconstitutional.

Ashcroft said that ignored a constitutional amendment that allowed general photo ID standards that voters approved in 2016.

He also touted his efforts to "enforce the rule of law with regard to petitions and referendums," an issue on which he attracted scrutiny last year when he rejected petitions aimed at blocking a new law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

Yinka Faleti

Faleti, 44, is the Democratic challenger in the race.

Faleti is an attorney and U.S. Army veteran who previously worked as an executive at the United Way in St. Louis. This is his first run for elected office.

Throughout his campaign, he’s pitched himself as an anti-Ashcroft — a Nigerian immigrant without a famous last name whose main priority is expanding mail-in voting.

Before this year, Missourians could only vote by mail if they had one of six specific absentee excuses, and when a temporary expansion expires Jan. 1, those will be the rules again.

Faleti said he would lobby to make mail-in voting an option for any voter and align Missouri with more of than half of other states.

“Missouri is really trailing the rest of the country in terms of voting access,” he said. “It doesn't have to be this way.”

He said he would also push to automatically register people to vote when they turn 18 and allow early in-person voting for anyone interested.

He acknowledged it wouldn’t be easy with a Republican legislature that’s been reluctant to make any changes to the current system, but he said that was no reason to not try to make things more convenient.

“The Secretary should be pushing and pulling and prodding for things like early voting and no-excuse absentee voting,” he said.

Faleti added that four more years of the alternative would be even worse than standing still, accusing Ashcroft of “voter suppression” for:

Recommending in-person voting over voting by mail this year;
Supporting the voter ID law;
Supporting a bill requiring mail-in voters to see a notary in a pandemic before returning their ballot; and
Appealing a court decision that would have allowed people to return this year’s “mail-in” ballots in-person like they can with absentee ballots, which are in a separate category.

“Jay Ashcroft isn't just neutral, in terms of making things easier for Missourians,” Faleti said. “He's negative.”

Ashcroft, for his part, has denied accusations he’s suppressing anyone’s vote.

He says in-person voting is better than mail-in voting because the former can’t be lost in the mail and delivered too late, as a small fraction of ballots are in every election.

He says reviving the voter ID law wouldn’t stop anyone who wants to vote from voting because people without photo ID could cast provisional ballots, most of which end up counting once signatures are checked.

Ashcroft described his decision to appeal the ruling on mail-in ballot return as a response to a judge “overturning the will of the people, through their elected representatives, to have safe and secure elections.”

A spokeswoman for Ashcroft said he supports requiring mail-in voters to get their ballots verified by a notary as a safeguard against fraud.

That’s been questioned, though: documented cases of voter fraud are very rare and local election authorities have pointed out that voters can get around the requirement by requesting an absentee ballot and claiming they’re “confined due to illness” with little chance of being caught.

Third-party candidates

Libertarian Carl Herman Freese told the League of Women Voters his top priority would be “election policy reform for people and all parties of Missouri to take their place in the political debates that form and guide government policy.”

Green Party candidate Paul Lehmann said he would work to allow all citizens to vote by mail, audit the secretary’s office to “eliminate waste and discriminatory rules” and lobby the legislature to “adopt one time zone year-round.”

Constitution Party candidate Paul Venable said he would propose:

Amending the constitution to allow people to recall all elected officials;
Running elections with hand-counted paper ballots; and
Ending primary elections and moving to a caucus system.