South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Missouri expands absentee, mail-in voting during coronavirus pandemic

The Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City.

For the first time, registered voters in Missouri will be able to request a mail-in ballot for 2020 elections after legislation responding to the coronavirus pandemic was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson Thursday. 

Senate Bill 631, sponsored by Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, was approved by the Missouri Legislature and allows individuals who have contracted COVID-19 or are otherwise considered at-risk for the coronavirus to vote absentee in 2020 without getting a signature from a notary public. 

The legislation also allows any registered voter to vote by mail in 2020 by requesting a mail-in ballot from the local election authority. Mail-in ballots require notarization under penalty of perjury and must be returned by mail postmarked no later than 7 p.m. when the polls close on Election Day. They will only be available to voters who specifically request one. 

The signature from Parson, a Republican, means that the expanded absentee voting and vote-by-mail provisions will take effect in time for the Aug. 4 primary elections.

Both provisions in the bill will expire Dec. 31, 2020. 

The League of Women Voters and the NAACP sued the state earlier this year to try to expand absentee voting. Missouri is one of the few states that requires a reason to absentee vote, including sickness or being out of town on Election Day.

“Missouri must expand and protect access to the ballot in these unprecedented times,” League of Women Voters of Missouri President Evelyn Maddox said at the time the lawsuit was filed in April. “We want any Missouri voter who is social distancing in compliance with CDC guidelines to be able to request an absentee ballot in 2020 and return it without a notary seal.”

In a last-minute compromise before the Legislature adjourned a shortened session due to COVID-19, the General Assembly sent legislation to the governor that would enable more Missouri voters to avoid crowded polling places due to COVID-19 and instead vote by either absentee or mail-in ballot during the 2020 election cycle. The Senate passed the bill 25-5 on May 15, with the House of Representatives sealing the deal on a vote of 121-24 later that day.

Senate Bill 631 would authorize registered voters age 65 or over, or those of any age who have a medical condition that makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19, to cast an absentee ballot. The bill also creates a vote-by-mail process for all other Missouri voters. Unlike with absentee ballots, however, mail-in ballots would first have to be notarized.

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who has dismissed concerns that COVID-19 creates risks for voters, issued a statement opposing SB 631, which applies only to the upcoming 2020 elections.

“No bill at all is better than passing a bad bill with permanent consequences,” Ashcroft said.

President Donald Trump has tweeted against voting by mail, alleging that the process would be rife with fraud.

Requiring a signature reduces the chance that individuals may fraudulently cast another voter’s ballot, the governor’s office said June 4. 

“Any Missourian affected by COVID-19 should still be able to vote, including those who are sick or considered at risk. I applaud… the legislature for taking this important step, which provides Missourians with a safe and secure way to vote while still safeguarding our elections and ballot process,” said Parson in the statement. “I fully agree with President Trump’s position (against mail-in voting) and do not support any plan to expand mass mail-in voting without a reason. This only enables voter fraud and ballot harvesting, and I am proud to sign this bill to stop that process from happening in our state.” 

The legislation also expands the secretary of state’s subpoena power when investigating alleged election offenses and allows state employees not under the merit system or uniform classification and pay system to run for local office. 

The bill also increases filing fees for candidates for all statewide offices, circuit judges, state representatives or any county office.

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