- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri election officials are scrambling to reprint ballots and reprogram computers after an appeals court ordered a change to an early voting proposal that will appear on the November ballot.

County clerks said Wednesday that the change could cost the state tens of thousands of additional dollars and delay the availability of absentee ballots that are supposed to ready for voters next Tuesday. It also could lead to a push during the 2015 legislative session to amend Missouri’s election deadlines.

“It is a tremendous burden on the local taxpayers - on the entire state of Missouri - when these types of rulings are handed down at this late notice,” said Atchison County Clerk Susette Taylor, who is president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities.

A panel of the Western District state appeals court on Monday ordered new ballot wording for a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing a six-day, no-excuses-needed early voting period for future general elections. The judges said the ballot summary approved by legislators was misleading because it failed to note the early voting period would occur only if the state provides funding.

Many local election authorities already had printed their paper ballots and programmed their computers based on the list of candidates and issues that were certified last month.

Missouri law requires the state to pay the costs of reprinting ballots when there are court-ordered changes to statewide ballot measures. Deputy Secretary of State Abe Rakov suggested Wednesday that the costs should come out of the Legislature’s budget.

A majority of Missouri counties have their ballots printed by either Clinton-based Henry M. Adkins & Son Inc. or Springfield-based Elkins-Swyers Co. Officials at both companies said Wednesday that had they had largely finished the job before the court ruling.

“We’re in shock mode right now,” said Steve Nibert, president of Elkins-Swyers. “It’s kind of hard from an employee morale standpoint when you’re 96 percent done with the task you’ve been working on for a month and you have to start all over again.”

There is no statewide estimate yet on the cost of the reprinting and reprogramming.

Carroll County Clerk Peggy McGaugh said it could cost $17,000 to redo her county’s 7,000 ballots, on top of the original bill of $18,800.

St. Louis County, the state’s largest voting jurisdiction, avoided a huge bill because it had printed only absentee ballots - not the full Election Day supply for its 677,000 registered voters, said county elections director Rita Heard Days. It will cost about $6,000 to reprint 20,810 absentee ballots, she said.

Days, a former Democratic state senator, is part of a growing contingent of county clerks who want Missouri’s election deadlines to be changed to keep last-moment court rulings from affecting ballot issues. Courts have said that Missouri’s current statutes allow them to order changes to ballot measures up to six weeks before an election - the same day that absentee ballots must be available.

“That is not at all reasonable,” said Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren.

Republican state Rep. Sue Entlicher, a former Polk County clerk who is chairwoman of the House Elections Committee, said she plans to meet with local election officials next week to discuss potential changes to state laws.

State Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican from Lee’s Summit who’s running for secretary of state in 2016, said he’s considering sponsoring legislation setting sooner deadlines for legal challenges of ballot measures.

“When the secretary of state certifies the ballot, there shouldn’t be any changes after that,” Kraus said.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://www.twitter.com/DavidALieb .

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