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Governor, election official spar over gay marriage in Mo.

Dispute is seen to affect turnout

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's governor and chief election official are sparring over the timing of a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. It is a dispute that could complicate efforts for Democrats during November's presidential contest.

Governor Bob Holden, a Democrat, has called for an Aug. 3 vote on the amendment, a move that would keep it from affecting turnout in the Nov. 2 general election.

But Secretary of State Matt Blunt, a Republican, has refused to set an election date until he receives the actual amendment from legislators who passed the measure last week.

Blunt is not expected to receive the proposed amendment until May 28, three days after the deadline to notify local election officials of any additions to the August ballot.

The issue is now heading to court. Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat, sued Blunt yesterday, seeking to force him to place the issue on the Aug. 3 ballot.

The timing of the gay marriage vote could have political implications not only for Holden and Blunt, both of whom are running for governor this year, but also for Senator John F. Kerry's campaign against President Bush.

Some political observers believe putting the proposed gay marriage ban on the November ballot would draw enough conservative voters to give Republicans the winning margin in this swing state in November.

"If I were the Republican Party, I would really want this on the November ballot, because I think it would help them all the way up and down the ballot," said Martha Kropf, assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. "And if I were the Democrats, I'd be working day and night to make sure it got on the August ballot."

An August election would coincide with Missouri's political party primaries, which have traditionally low turnouts.

Missouri already has a law recognizing only marriages between a man and woman. But supporters of the proposed amendment believe that a constitutional change could better withstand a potential legal challenge.

Under the state constitution, proposed amendments are automatically placed on the November ballot unless the governor schedules a special election earlier.

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