Election 2018 Gaming the Ballot

FILE - In this May 5, 2015 photo, marijuana plants grows at a Minnesota Medical Solutions greenhouse in Otsego, Minn. States where marijuana legalization measures on the ballot in November could help the turnout for Democratic candidates even if the measures themselves fizzle. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, File)

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JEFFERSON CITY • Unofficial election returns Tuesday showed Missouri voters endorsing legalization of medical marijuana, an increase to the state's minimum wage and an ethics package that is sure to rock the capital city's power structure.

A measure to raise the state's gasoline tax was failing with about 65 percent of precincts reporting results shortly before 11 p.m.

If the leads on medical marijuana, minimum wage and ethics hold, Missouri voters will have effectively bypassed Missouri's GOP-led Legislature on issues that lawmakers have not addressed for several years.

Of the three medical marijuana initiatives, Amendment 2, a constitutional change backed by the group New Approach Missouri, was winning more than 60 percent of the vote with 65 percent of the ballots counted before 11 p.m.

Two other medical marijuana questions — Amendment 3, largely self-funded by Springfield attorney Dr. Brad Bradshaw; and Proposition C, backed by secret donors — were both failing.

Missouri voters were also backing an increase to the state's minimum wage, with about six in 10 voters voicing support for the hike with 67 percent of the votes tallied at 11 p.m.

“Today’s strong show of support sends a clear message that Missourians believe that no one who works full time should have to live in poverty and struggle just to raise their family and that it is well past time to give low-wage Missouri workers a raise," Carl Walz, campaign manager of Raise Up Missouri, which backed Proposition B, said in a statement at 10:15 p.m.

Voters last approved a minimum wage increase in 2006. The question then contained a provision allowing for modest increases in sync with cost of living increases, but the minimum wage — currently $7.85 per hour — had not been raised by more than 15 cents since 2009.

In approving Proposition B this year, Missouri's wage is set to climb to $8.60 an hour next year, and increase 85 cents a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2023.

A measure to raise the state's gasoline tax had garnered only 45 percent support with almost 65 percent of votes counted.

Scott Charton, a spokesman for the gas tax campaign, said the election outcome is disappointing but that "the conversation about how to do better" regarding funding for roads and bridges cannot end.

"The safety of Missourians and our economic future depend on it," he said.

He said campaign officials are confident that the Missouri Department nof Transportation will do the best it can with what it has "for safety and to take care of the system."

"Election Day is over, but MoDOT still has a job to do," he said. "That job is even more critical because the need for resources was real before Election day and that need remains."

Under Proposition D, put on the ballot by the Legislature, the current 17-cents-a-gallon state tax would increase 2.5 cents each year starting next July until it hits 27 cents in mid-2022.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials have said the purchasing power of Missouri's 17-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax had eroded since 1996, when it was last increased.

At the same time, Missouri's state road network is among the most expansive in the country; the state's fuel tax is among the country's lowest. Officials say the state has annual unmet transportation needs of $825 million per year.

The measure would have assigned a projected $123 million a year from the tax hike when fully implemented directly to cities and counties for local road and bridge improvements and $288 million to the Missouri Highway Patrol.

A Proposition D opponent, state Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said "the appetite among the people for additional taxes is just not there, even for things everyone agrees is" an appropriate governmental function — roads.

He also said that the Legislature should consider allocating to MoDOT some money from other existing state revenue sources.

Despite an opposition campaign, Amendment 1 — or Clean Missouri — was winning about 60 percent of the vote with 65 percent of precincts reporting shortly before 11 p.m.

Shortly before 10 p.m., Clean Missouri backers declared victory.

“We are thrilled that Republicans, Democrats, and independents came together to clean up Missouri politics,” Nimrod “Rod” Chapel, Jr., treasurer of Clean Missouri, said in a statement. "Thousands of Missourians from across the state came together to put Amendment 1 on the ballot, and then thousands more joined the fight to pass Amendment 1."

The most controversial provision within the suite of ethics changes is a provision to revamp the way Missouri draws its state House and Senate districts. Under Amendment 1, a nonpartisan state demographer would have a role in drawing the maps.

Some black Democrats said the provision would reduce their representation in the Legislature. Republicans worry the map would be gerrymandered in favor of Democrats because of a "partisan fairness" provision.

Amendment 1 backers argued those concerns are overblown.

Other provisions include a requirement for legislators to adhere to the Sunshine Law, limits on lobbyist gifts, a legislator-to-lobbyist "cooling off" period and new campaign contribution limits.

Mark Schlinkmann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Jack Suntrup • 573-556-6184

@JackSuntrup on Twitter

jsuntrup@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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