JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Less than a year after updating Missouri's election laws, legislators are promoting additional changes needed to secure up to $76 million in federal grants for the state's election system.
The money became available earlier this month when Congress approved $1.5 billion to implement election reforms nationwide, in response to the disputed 2000 presidential election.
States have until next Jan. 1 to satisfy Congress that they have laws and plans in place for making the intended use of the funds -- in Missouri's case, up to $76 million over four years.
At a news conference Tuesday, Secretary of State Matt Blunt and two Republican legislators outlined a bill that would help Missouri comply with the federal law.
The bill provides in part for creation of a centralized voter registration database and the installation of handicapped-accessible voting machines.
Sponsored by Sen. Anita Yeckel of St. Louis and Rep. Bill Deeken of Jefferson City, the bill would also would create a statewide pool of election judges, require simplified ballot language for statewide initiatives and provide grants for local election officials.
"This is something we really needed to do, and it's really important to a lot of people," said Deeken, who spent 12 years as the Cole County clerk. "This will also make sure that all disabled people will be able to vote and be treated like everybody else."
Blunt, a Republican who is Missouri's chief elections official, said the state could lose the federal funding if it doesn't pass legislation by Jan. 1.
Blunt said some federal requirements were satisfied by the election changes signed into law last year, including the option of provisional ballots for voters whose eligibility was questioned.
"We should move quickly to improve the process so we can get money from the federal government," Blunt said, adding that it was important to ensure there is time to make Missouri's local election authorities aware of the rules for the 2004 election.
Blunt has said he is considering running for governor next year but has not publicly announced his intentions. He declined to discuss the issue with reporters on Tuesday.
Yeckel, who sponsored the elections bill last year, said she expects to receive bipartisan support for this year's bill.
"The bill we passed for the 2002 elections worked pretty well," Yeckel said. "This bill is actually going to clarify sections of the bill we passed and also bring us into compliance" with the federal law.
Blunt said he has appointed an advisory committee to prepare the report required by federal officials on how Missouri will spend the election grant funds.
The committee will hold public meetings across the state, with the first session set for Wednesday in Jefferson City, Blunt said.
Elections bill is SB569.
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