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Effort to oust Akin from U.S. Senate race may face earlier deadline than some have thought

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 10, 2012 - Although Sept. 25 is attracting attention as the legal deadline for Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin to seek a court order to drop out, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan says that other legal deadlines actually kick in a few days earlier.

“The clock is ticking on this,” Carnahan told the Beacon in an interview.

She explained that, by federal law, Missouri paper ballots to be mailed to eligible voters in the military and overseas must be sent out by Sept. 22. Because that’s a Saturday, she expects most local election authorities to send out the ballots by Friday, Sept. 21.

“Missouri would get sued by the Justice Department even if it is a day late,” she said.

As a result, any post-Sept. 21 decision by Akin to go to court to drop out by Sept. 25 would mean that his name would remain on the military and overseas ballots. And any new ballots sent out with his replacement’s name would then violate the Sept. 22 requirement.

And since paper ballots need to be printed before they can be sent out, the implication is that Akin likely faces a much earlier de facto deadline for going to court, in order for properly worded ballots to be sent out overseas and to the military by Sept. 22.

Another factor possibly being overlooked? State law allows any of Missouri’s 116 local election authorities to file a legal objection “for good cause,” should Akin seek a court order to get off the ballot. 

The upshot, should he seek such an order, is that any objection by a local election official could significantly delay any judicial ruling. The law also stipulates that Akin’s action must be “freely given.”

If the judge allows him to withdraw, Akin would be liable for the cost for printing new ballots statewide.

When asked about the cost, Carnahan said that it has become a more complicated – and costly – process to change what’s on a ballot because many Missouri voters now cast ballots on paper, and which then are counted via optical-scan.

That means millions of new paper ballots would have to be printed.

Changing touch-screen ballots (or the old punch-card ballots) are not as complicated or costly, since the change is simply made to what appears on the computer screen (or, in the case of punch cards, to the master list of candidates and issues that appeared in the voting booth).

Akin is seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. But the GOP has been in turmoil over his candidacy since shortly after he unexpectedly won the Aug. 7 Republican primary.

Rape comment continues to cause controversy

On Aug. 19,  KTVI-TV (Channel 2) broadcast his interview with Charles Jaco, in which Akin – while explaining his opposition to abortions for rape victims – asserted that in the case of “legitimate rape,” a woman rarely gets pregnant because her body “has ways to to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin was expressing the view of some religious conservatives, although most medical experts say that rape victims are just as likely to get pregnant as any woman who had engaged in unprotected sex.

Akin has since apologized for his language, although he has emphasized that he still opposes abortion under almost all circumstances, with the exception of ectopic pregnancy, in which a fetus is growing in a fallopian tube and cannot survive. (Akin also opposes the morning-after pill.)

National Republican leaders upset over his “legitimate rape” comment have tried – and, so far, failed – to persuade Akin to drop out. National Republican groups, and their allies – notably Crossroads GPS – have said they will spend no money to help Akin’s campaign.

The pressure stems from the GOP's expectation that it could defeat McCaskill as part of a national effort to capture four additional Senate seats and take control of the chamber.

The Washington Post isamong several national news outlets who recently have run articles assessing Akin’s staying power.

Meanwhile, Akin and McCaskill are continuing to travel the state, and to run TV ads (he denies reports that he has run into money problems). And for the most part, neither candidate is talking about his abortion comments.

In any case, the matter of Akin’s candidacy may be, in effect, decided for good much earlier than the Sept. 25 deadline that has attracted most of the attention from the public and the press.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.