Ashcroft won’t use random sampling to certify marijuana, ranked-choice initiatives

The secretary of state used the expedited method in 2020 to verify signatures for a Medicaid expansion initiative petition

By: - May 19, 2022 5:55 am

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft will rely on the traditional method of line-by-line checking by local election officials to verify and count the signatures (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft will not use random sampling to verify whether a pair of initiative petitions submitted this month collected enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot, his office confirmed Wednesday.

Instead, Ashcroft will rely on the traditional method of line-by-line checking by local election officials to verify and count the signatures.

“Our office is currently not considering using random sampling…” said Madison Walker, a spokesman for Ashcroft’s office. He later clarified: “The signatures will be verified the typical way.”

The use of random sampling drew criticism in 2020, when Ashcroft used it to verify signatures for an initiative petition expanding Medicaid eligibility.

Ashcroft said he used random sampling in 2020 to avoid burdening local election authorities so close to a municipal election, which had been moved from April to June because of COVID-19. But Democrats argued Ashcroft’s true motivation was to speed up the process in order give Gov. Mike Parson enough time to move Medicaid expansion to the lower-turnout primary in August instead of the November general election. 

Parson did end up moving the expansion vote to August, and 53% of voters ultimately approved the measure.

Two campaigns submitted signatures to the secretary of state’s office this month in the hopes of making the November ballot. One would legalize recreational use of marijuana, while the other would implement a ranked-choice voting system in Missouri. 

The marijuana initiative effort, called Legal Missouri, claims to have more than 385,000 signatures on its petition. The elections initiative campaign, called Better Elections, says it has more than 300,000 signatures. To make the ballot, each needs approximately 180,000 signatures distributed among six of the state’s eight congressional districts.

State law permits the secretary of state to verify the signatures on an initiative petition by examining a random sampling of 5% of the signatures submitted. Besides Ashcroft, the method has only been used three times before: Twice by Republican Roy Blunt and once by Democrat Rebecca Cook.

In addition to critics who worried Ashcroft used random sampling to hurt Medicaid expansion’s chances, others argued the secretary of state should have had to go through a formal rulemaking process to establish how the sampling is conducted. 

Earlier this year, David Roland — an attorney working with Better Elections  — filed a lawsuit against Ashcroft making that argument and seeking to pre-empt him from using random sampling to verify signatures this year. The lawsuit was dismissed last month, with the judge ruling the question was moot since signatures had yet been turned in.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.