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Missouri lawmakers consider implementing political party registration

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri voters would be given the option to affiliate with a political party when they register to vote under a bill considered by House lawmakers Wednesday.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Stacy, R-Blue Springs, said this bill gives Missourians their First Amendment right to freedom of association.

“Have you ever heard someone in Missouri proudly proclaim, ‘I am a registered Republican,’ or, ‘I’ve been a registered Democrat all my life?’ Well in the state of Missouri, this is simply not true,” Stacy said.

Stacy said 32 states provide voters the opportunity to formally affiliate with a political party.

“By implementing this affiliation process, we can help citizens exercise their freedom of speech and their freedom of association by banding together with like-minded individuals to advance their shared values,” Stacy said.

This bill stipulates that beginning Jan. 1, 2023, the voter registration application form shall be amended to include a choice of political party affiliation.

If the bill is passed, those registering to vote could choose an “established political party” to affiliate with. The options are Constitution, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Republican or Unaffiliated. Stacy said these are the political parties with ballot access in the state of Missouri.

Voters’ initial political party affiliation would be based on their ballot choice during the 2024 presidential primary or the August 2024 primary. The bill would also note Missourians’ political party affiliation on voter identification cards.

Democrats on the committee questioned why registered political affiliation is necessary.

Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, said people already have the opportunity to affiliate with political parties through local committees. While addressing Stacy, she added young people do not want to be “siloed” into parties.

“What you’re doing is just adding more paperwork, and you’re also going to push younger voters away,” Baringer said.

Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, and a few other committee members questioned whether the bill would restrict a voter’s ability to choose a ballot in a primary.

“Have you ever heard of individuals or groups pulling a ballot for an opposing party to try to throw or skew the elections to where they may deem it a weaker candidate?” asked Reisch.

Stacy said this bill does not have any enforcement mechanism, and voters would still be allowed to use any partisan ballot.

“This bill will not ensure that that doesn’t happen. That’s not the purpose of this bill,” Stacy said.

A voter’s party affiliation would be stored by the secretary of state, along with other information such as name, address and districts. The party an individual registered under would then be publicly available information.

Rep. David Smith, D-Columbia, raised a concern that this may lead to political profiling or problems on the job if employers can easily access a person’s political affiliation. Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, agreed but noted social media was just as likely to put job applicants in a political box.

Under this bill, voters can choose to be “unaffiliated” — meaning they do not register with any party. Stacy noted this also ensures the freedom not to associate.

Missourians would be able to change which party they register with at any time. The process would be similar to how a voter’s change of address is handled.

According to a legislative analysis, implementation of this bill would incur a one-time cost of $700,000. The money is needed to amend the Missouri Centralized Voter Registration Database and “internal processing, data table linking, sorting, searching and reporting modifications.”

The legislation would require local election authorities to notify registered voters of the political party affiliation opportunities before August 2026.

A resident of Platte County spoke in favor of the bill, and a NAACP representative testified in opposition.

Jana Rose Schleis is a M.A. student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is studying investigative journalism and government reporting.