JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri voters cast ballots Tuesday in several races, including a GOP Senate primary contest and a ballot measure that would, among other things, allow students to refuse school assignments that violate their religious beliefs.
Registered voters can choose a ballot for any political party or ask for a ballot that merely poses questions about issues, such as the proposed state constitutional amendment related to prayer.
Turnout early Tuesday was reportedly light in Kansas City, where Shawn Kieffer, Republican director of elections for the Kansas City Election Board, had expected a turnout of about 15 percent. Based on early numbers, he thought the final figure would be closer to 10 percent or 12 percent of the 215,000 registered voters in his jurisdiction.
“Turnout so far is extremely light,” Kieffer said.
Gary Stoff, Republican director for the St. Louis Board of Elections, said polling places he visited had a steady, but not heavy, flow of activity. He says city election officials were expecting turnout near the expected 25 percent—or more—statewide because of the number of hotly contested races in St. Louis.
The top of the Missouri ballot features the U.S. Senate race. For Democrats, there is just one choice—Sen. Claire McCaskill. Republicans have several choices, including front-runners John Brunner, Sarah Steelman and Todd Akin. Also on the ballot are primaries for governor, other statewide offices and some legislative seats.
All three Republican Senate candidates have claimed they are the most conservative. All vow they’ll try to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law. They also share a similar economic plan centered on less government, including reductions in taxes, spending, debt and regulations.
John Barninger, 60, a legislative aide at the Missouri Capitol, said he supported Akin because he likes “his conservative values.”
“I think the country needs to turn back around. We’re in real bad shape,” he said
In St. Louis, U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan have appealed to the largely Democratic electorate by casting themselves as the most effective liberal—or progressive—candidate.
Carnahan chose to run in the 1st District, currently represented by Clay, after Carnahan’s current 3rd District was essentially dismantled during redistricting. The boundaries were redrawn by the Republican-led state Legislature after Missouri lost one of its nine congressional districts as a result of the 2010 census.
Morning turnout was light both at Chesterfield City Hall, a wealthy suburb in the 2nd Congressional District, and at the Missouri School for the Blind in a working-class neighborhood of St. Louis located in the 1st Congressional District.
Bob Nicolay, 65, said he voted for Carnahan largely because he has always lived in Carnahan’s old district and has been impressed with Carnahan’s concern for the conditions of the Veteran’s Hospital in St. Louis.
Martin J. McNally, 68, of St. Louis, is retired on a military pension and runs a business that markets publications. He voted for Clay because “he’s for the working men and women of this district.”
The ballot also includes a measure that would expand an existing section of the Missouri Constitution stating people can pray in public if they do not disturb the peace, and that prayer is allowed before government meetings. It also would state that students cannot be compelled to participate in school assignments violating their religious beliefs.
Supporters contend the measure reinforces the right to pray and protects students. Opponents argue the measure could cause confusion over what is allowed and is likely to trigger lawsuits.
“It’s unnecessary. It seems to open the door for the frankly scientifically illiterate people to perpetuate the curriculum of the state and the school district on things like evolution,” said Ryan Owen, 31, a lawyer from Florissant. He said the state constitution already allows individuals to pray in school.
“At a minimum that’s going to prompt litigation, which is just a big old mess,” Owen said.
Audrey Owens, 58, of St. Louis, supported the prayer measure, which she felt is necessary.
“I don’t have a kid, but I think prayers in school can only help” given the violence in society, she said.