by Mark Timmerman
Every school year, high schools and colleges across the country hold voter registration drives for students who have reached the age of 18. In Missouri, two voter registration laws set to go in effect on August 28, 2022 pose new challenges to any school that seeks to partake in this American tradition. These laws are a part of House Bill 1878, which was signed into law by Governor Parson on June 29, 2022.
Missouri Revised Statutes § 115.205 (effective Aug. 28, 2022) requires any person who solicits more than ten (10) voter registration applications to register as a “voter registration solicitor” with the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office. To be a “voter registration solicitor,” a person must be at least eighteen years of age and a registered voter in Missouri. “Voter registration solicitors” must re-register every new election cycle. The statute also prohibits any person from being paid or otherwise compensated for soliciting voter registration applications, unless the person is a governmental entity or a person who is paid or compensated by a governmental entity for such solicitation.
In order to register as a “voter registration solicitor,” the statute requires a person to provide the following information in writing to the Secretary of State’s Office: name, residential address, mailing address (if different from residential), signature. The information must be submitted with the following oath and affirmation: “I HEREBY SWEAR OR AFFIRM UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY THAT ALL STATEMENTS MADE BY ME ARE TRUE AND CORRECT.”
Any “voter registration solicitor” who knowingly fails to register with the Secretary of State is guilty of a class three election offense, which can result in imprisonment of not more than one year and/or a fine of not more than $2,500.
The Missouri Secretary of State’s website offers a form for those wishing to register as a “voter registration solicitor.” However, the form seeks more information from registrants than a person is required by law to provide in this specific registration process. Specifically, the form asks whether the registrant expects to be paid for soliciting voter registrations, and if yes, the form asks the registrant to provide the name of the person or entity that they expect to receive payment from.
Additionally, Missouri Revised Statute § 115.279 (effective Aug. 28, 2022) prohibits any individual, group, or party from soliciting a voter into obtaining an absentee ballot application. The new statute also prohibits an absentee ballot application from having information prefilled prior to being provided to a voter.
These statutes raise important questions for school districts and higher educational institutions seeking to register new voters. For example, what does it mean to “solicit” a voter registration application or “solicit” a voter into obtaining an absentee ballot application? If a teacher or professor sits at a table with a stack of voter registration applications, are they soliciting? If a student hands an absentee ballot application to an elderly relative, are they breaking the law? What if a teacher or professor merely informs students about the voter registration process? If a school district sponsors a voter registration drive at a school, do all of the administrators at the school need to register as “voter registration solicitors?” Also, what does it mean to be “paid or otherwise compensated” for soliciting voter registration applications? If a student volunteer at a voter registration drive receives a slice of pizza, are they being “compensated” for soliciting voter registration applications, which is now prohibited under the law?
The constitutionality of these new statutes is currently being challenged in the Circuit Court of Cole County in a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of the Missouri and the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP. The lawsuit could result in the court temporarily or permanently blocking the government’s enforcement of the statutes, but the court has not yet taken action.
The law in this area is ever-changing. If you have questions about how these new statutes might affect your school or institution, please contact your Tueth Keeney education law attorney.
Sign up to receive Insight notifications via email here.
Missouri Education – The law firm of Tueth Keeney Cooper Mohan & Jackstadt, P.C. (the “Firm”), has one of the largest and most successful education law groups in the country. The Firm regularly serves the legal counsel needs of approximately 150 school districts throughout Missouri. The Firm also has one of the largest school law practices in Central and Southern Illinois.
Higher Education – Tueth Keeney maintains one of the largest and most successful higher education law groups in the Midwest. Our higher education practice includes representation of numerous colleges and universities throughout Missouri and Illinois. In addition, the Firm is one of approximately twenty law firms in the nation that have been appointed to act as Select Counsel to represent higher education institutions insured by United Educators Insurance Risk Retention Group, Inc., the nation’s largest insurer of colleges and universities. The attorneys in the Firm’s higher education group provide a full range of services to colleges and universities, ranging from day-to-day counseling on legal issues, to representation in complex litigation.
Mark T. Timmerman practices in the areas of Missouri school education, higher education, constitutional law, litigation, and labor & employment law. He works primarily with educational institutions, including public school districts, charter schools, and private schools, as well as public and private universities. He advises his clients on a range of matters including employment matters, harassment and discrimination disputes, student rights, and various constitutional issues. Mark focuses on making sure his clients are pointed in the right direction from the very beginning of a legal dispute, and he enjoys counseling clients daily. Prior to joining the firm, Mark was a trial attorney in the Missouri State Public Defender System in its Clayton, Missouri office.