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Tilley: Survey reveals most voters think government’s headed in the right direction

When Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, surveyed his constituents about current legislative issues, most of the answers he received were about what he expected.

With one exception, the 700 respondents’ opinions were in line with comments Tilley had heard from constituents when he visited with voters in his district. But their response to one question stood out.

&#8220The one thing that surprised me was the response to the &#8220no excuse” absentee voting question,” Tilley said. &#8220I thought that people would support something that made voting easier, but I think the cost must have put them off.”

Number 5 in the 26-question survey dealt with the feasibility of allowing voters to cast absentee votes without requiring a reason. Currently, Missouri voters may cast an absentee ballot up to six weeks before an election only if they meet certain criteria. Among acceptable reasons for voting early are religious beliefs, confinement due to illness or disability, and plans to be out of town on Election Day.

Some states, however, allow voters to file ballots early without requiring any excuse. A legislative committee in Missouri is studying whether a similar &#8220no excuse” absentee voting is feasible here. One drawback is cost. The secretary of state estimated that early or &#8220no excuse” absentee voting would cost the state $2,435,699 to implement and staff. The upside, however, is that the change in policy would encourage more voters to participate in the process, Tilley said.

Of the first 593 respondents to Tilley’s survey, 77 percent opposed such a plan, while 18 percent supported the idea.

After Tilley’s staff compiled the answers to the survey, his office received approximately 100 additional responses. Although the survey results do not include these respondents in the percentages, the additional respondents’ answers were in line with the compiled results, Tilley said.

One common complaint written in the comments section of the survey came from state employees who were unhappy with wages and the lack of pay increases, he added.

The surveys went out about six weeks ago to each household with at least one registered voter. Tilley sent out about 7,000 surveys, and received more back than he initially expected.

&#8220This is very valuable information for me,” he said. &#8220We touched on some pretty controversial issues. I really didn’t know how the people in my district felt about those issues, but this gives me a good idea.”

The majority of respondents supported increasing minimum sentences and monitoring requirements for convicted sex offenders; freezing the number of casinos at the current level; requiring Medicaid recipients to pay for part of their medical care and to be employed or in school; increasing taxes on casinos and cigarettes; increasing the penalty for Medicaid fraud; and requiring annual re-verification of all Medicaid recipients and annual performance reviews of Medicaid healthcare providers.

Although nearly 80 percent supported adult stem cell research, respondents were almost equally split (50 percent – yes, 42 percent – no) of the issue of embryonic stem cell research that could lead to cures for diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

&#8220This is one of the most contentious and highly debated issues we’re going to see in the next few years,” Tilley said. &#8220I believe we will see an issue on the November ballot on embryonic stem research.”

Respondents also were split (38 percent in favor, 42 percent opposed) on whether to keep the 2005 changes in Medicaid and avoid increasing any taxes. They disagreed (57 percent in favor, 42 percent opposed) on whether increased funding is necessary for the quality of education to improve in public schools.

In addition to the absentee voting issue, the majority of respondents opposed school vouchers; increasing income taxes or sales taxes to fund Medicaid services; and increasing income taxes to support additional spending for education and healthcare.

The issue of eminent domain elicited a strong response. When asked if they agreed with the Supreme Court’s recent decision (Kelo v. New London) allowing eminent domain for private commercial development, 93 percent disagreed.

The same percent of respondents supported the idea of new legislation in Missouri that would prohibit the use of eminent domain for private development.

Several questions addressed voters’ satisfaction with state government. When asked if the state government is headed in the right direction, 21 percent agreed and 44 percent responded that they somewhat agreed. The 35 percent who do not believe the government is on the right track were evenly split between those who disagreed and those who somewhat disagreed.

Approximately 50 percent of respondents indicated that they believe the government has improved or somewhat improved in the past two years, 23 percent said it has stayed the same, and 26 percent said state government has definitely declined.

Part of the response to this section might have to do with recent problems in federal government, Tilley theorized.

&#8220When you’ve got people getting indicted nationally,” Tilley said, &#8220it has an effect on state government.”

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