Missouri voters can shape federal, state legislatures

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri voters had a chance Tuesday to influence the political control of both the federal and state legislatures while also deciding on the state's second proposed tax increase in the past three months.

Headlining the ballot was the U.S. Senate race, where Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan was vying with Republican Jim Talent for the right to finish the term to which Carnahan was appointed in 2000.

Talent got a boost Monday from President Bush, who stopped at a St. Charles rally attended by more than 8,000 people as part of a five-state campaign swing for Republican candidates.

Carnahan traveled from east-to-west, then south across Missouri on Monday, campaigning to senior citizens.

The winner of the Senate race, which also includes Libertarian Tamara Millay and Green Party candidate Daniel "digger" Romano, will serve the remaining four years of the term won in November 2000 by the deceased Mel Carnahan.

Carnahan, then Missouri's governor, was killed in a plane crash Oct. 16, 2000, but still defeated Republican Sen. John Ashcroft. Jean Carnahan was appointed to her late husband's seat.

Because Tuesday's Senate vote was a special election, the winner could take office this year -- in time to affect political party control and cast votes during a lame-duck session on the budget and parts of Bush's agenda. The Senate currently is split 49-49 between Democrats and Republicans with two independents.

Secretary of State Matt Blunt had predicted a 45 percent voter turnout Tuesday.

Most Missouri voters were greeted by gloomy weather Tuesday morning, with drizzle in most parts of the state. The rain was expected to taper off later in the day, according to the National Weather Service. Highs were expected to range form the lower 40s in northern Missouri to the lower 50s in southern Missouri.

Because the electricity was out at the 6 a.m. scheduled poll opening in rural Vienna, some voters were turned away at the Maries County Courthouse. People began voting by flashlight around 6:30 a.m.

The poor weather didn't deter Eric Allison, 27, the manager of a pretzel store in Jefferson City.

"I think it's iffy about whether the weather is going to affect people from turning out today," Allison said. "It's mostly older people who don't like to be out in the weather will probably stay home."

Judy Taylor of the St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners said voting was going smoothly.

"We all were open on time, absentees are heavy and we haven't received any big problem calls. It's amazing," said Taylor, an election official for 28 years. "I don't think the rain will keep people away. The Senate race is a very hot contest."

In southwest Missouri, Stone County Clerk Carolyn Dean said turnout was heavy despite the weather, which was improving as the morning progressed.

"It's been really busy this morning, real busy," Dean said. "If that is any indication, it's going to be a good turnout. And with the weather clearing off, that will probably help too."

If any election results are close, it could take days or weeks to determine a winner. That's because a new state law allows people whose eligibility is questioned to cast provisional ballots. Those votes would be counted only if the person's eligibility is later verified.

Provisional voting was included in legislation passed earlier this year in response to troubles in St. Louis and Florida in the 2000 elections.

In St. Louis, a judge ordered polls kept open after the scheduled 7 p.m. close because Democratic lawsuits complaining that hundreds of voters were turned away. An appeals court overruled the judge and closed the polls.

Blunt, a Republican, later concluded that court orders in St. Louis city and county improperly allowed 1,233 people to vote.

Like the U.S. Senate race, various races for the Legislature also could reshape the political control of the Missouri House and Senate.

The widespread onset of term limits has combined with redistricting to create an extraordinary number of races without incumbents. In the House, 87 of the 163 seats are guaranteed to be won by newcomers. In the Senate, where half of the 34 seats are up for election, there will be at least 12 freshmen.

Republicans are looking to hold onto the 18-16 Senate majority they won in January 2001. In the House, Democrats held a 87-76 majority based on the number of seats each party last controlled. Political observers say redistricting gave House Republicans a chance to gain seats.

Missouri voters also are deciding on a proposed tax increase of some $300 million -- raising cigarette taxes to 72 cents a pack from the current 17 cents and raising other tobacco taxes by 20 percent.

Most of the money from Proposition A would go to health care programs, with smaller portions to life sciences research, anti-tobacco efforts and community grants for early childhood centers.

In August, voters overwhelmingly rejected a roughly $500 million tax increase for state highways and other modes of transportation.

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