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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri Could Have Runoffs For 2022 Senate Race And Other Major Elections

Gov. Eric Greitens walks away from reporters after making a statement outside the Circuit Court building. May 14, 2018. A new bill could institute runoffs for statewide races, including the U.S. Senate contest that Greitens is competing in next year.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
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Gov. Eric Greitens walks away from reporters after making a statement outside the St. Louis Circuit Court building in May 2018. A new bill could institute runoffs for statewide races, including the U.S. Senate contest that Greitens is competing in next year.

Missouri senators threw a curveball in the waning days of the legislative session by offering a plan to have runoff elections for some of the state’s most high-profile contests.

That could have massive implications for the 2022 U.S. Senate race, primarily because it could make it harder for someone like former Gov. Eric Greitens to win.

The Senate early Thursday morning gave initial approval to Sen. Bill Eigel’s legislation that would move Missouri’s primary to June. Senators sent the measure to the House on early Friday morning. It would then have August runoffs for the U.S. Senate, congressional and statewide contests if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the June election.

The runoff requirement would affect the 2022 and 2024 election cycles.

“What we’re basically saying is that in order to be nominated for a party position for one of these positions, you must achieve a majority of votes from the voters who vote in that particular primary,” said Eigel, R-St. Charles County. “If you do achieve a majority in that first election, obviously that eliminates the need for an election in August.”

Missouri Republicans especially have occasionally had scenarios where candidates win without getting more than 50% of the vote. Sometimes those candidates have flamed out against their Democratic opponents, most notably when Republican Todd Akin won the U.S. Senate nomination in 2012 and was stomped by then-U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

But Eigel’s proposal, which needs another vote in the Senate before going to the House, could most affect next year’s GOP primary for the U.S. Senate. That’s because there’s widespread fear among Republicans that a crowded field could hand the nomination to Greitens, who has appeal among some Republicans but could be vulnerable to a Democrat after scandals led to his resignation from office.

If there’s a runoff, potential Republican candidates who are on the fence about running because they don’t want Greitens to win could enter the race. Besides Greitens and Attorney General Eric Schmitt who have announced their candidacy, U.S. Reps. Jason Smith, Ann Wagner, Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler are seriously considering Senate bids. Businessman John Brunner and attorney Mark McCloskey have also expressed interest in running.

Dylan Johnson, a spokesman for Greitens’ Senate campaign, said the runoff proposal “is just a sad, desperate attempt by the swampy establishment to try to subvert the democratic process. They will fail miserably.”

“Gov. Eric Greitens is dominating this race, and everyone knows it,” Johnson said. “He’s going to win, and there’s nothing that politicians in Jeff City can do to change that.”

Greitens’ campaign wasn’t the only detractor of the runoff proposal, as critics of the idea questioned whether it would boost the cost of elections in the state.

And others wondered if voters would participate in three major elections between June and November when the state has had two elections for decades.

“I represent a lot of working people who have a hard enough time as it is getting off work sometimes to go vote,” said Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton. “And I’m not saying elections are bad. But I don’t know necessarily why we need this.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said that it was a sad commentary on the state of Missouri politics that the GOP-run legislature has to go to a runoff system in order to prevent Greitens from winning the nomination.

“I think that our state and I think that democracy in general is good when we have a functioning Democratic Party and a functioning Republican Party,” Rizzo said. “And I think that if the majority of the Republican Party is in a position to where they are having to change laws because they’re unable to convince their voters that a guy is unfit for office, then they should probably take a deep look at what they’re selling to their voters.”

If Eigel’s bill wins approval in the House, it will go to Gov. Mike Parson.

Sen. Bob Onder holds an end of session press conference with other members of the Senate Conservative Caucus on May 17, 2019.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Bob Onder was a critic of trying to institute a no-excuse absentee period for in-person voting.

Photo ID and no-excuse absentee effort falters

The late-night debate on Wednesday and early Thursday that included the runoff proposal also showcased why it could be difficult to implement a photo identification requirement for voting and a no-excuse, in-person absentee period.

During debate, Sen. Dan Hegeman unsuccessfully attempted to introduce an amendment that had the photo ID and no-excuse absentee provisions in it. Hegeman, who served as a county clerk, has been seeking to do away with the excuse-based absentee system for years, which has been widely criticized as an unenforceable system that scares people into thinking they're committing a crime for which they’ll never be prosecuted.

“We’ve come up with a photo ID process and absentee voting that allows for folks to vote early, but with all the safeguards of absentee voting in person,” said Hegeman, R-Cosby.

But the proposal came under fire on two fronts. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, criticized the no-excuse, in-person absentee portion of Hegeman’s proposal, adding that he doesn’t want to create an incentive for people to vote before Election Day.

“Once early voting is put into our statute books, I think there will be a concerted effort to get people out and vote early,” Onder said. “If you think about it, a lot of times events happen in those final two, four, six weeks that affect how people might want to vote. Something might come out about one candidate or the other — maybe something good, maybe something scandalous.”

Chipping away at the state’s excuse-based absentee system is critical to passing the bill in regular session, because Democrats would be less likely to filibuster it — especially since it contains a photo ID requirement that the party has almost universally opposed for years.

“It seems like we’re doing some things to make some corrections for some problems that don’t exist,” said Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City.

Republicans have also sought to make it more difficult to pass constitutional amendments. Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, has called on Parson to have a special session if numerous election-related issues don’t pass before lawmakers adjourn at 6 p.m. Friday.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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