Bill would allow some with COVID-19 concerns to vote absentee

Citizens+vote+at+the+Sunset+Hills+Community+Center+April+2%2C+2019.+Photo+by+Erin+Achenbach.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

Citizens vote at the Sunset Hills Community Center April 2, 2019. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

By Seth Bodine, Missouri News Network

A bill endorsed by a Missouri House committee last week would let Missouri residents vote absentee if they are at risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19 and the governor has declared a state of emergency.

The House Elections and Elected Officials Committee approved the bill on a party line vote of 5-2, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

Rep. Kevin Windham, D-St. Louis County, presented an amendment that would have also allowed absentee voting if a state of emergency was declared by the World Health Organization or by the president of the United States. The amendment failed.

Democrats said the amendment was needed to make sure the pandemic-related voting provisions are extended throughout 2020. Gov. Mike Parson’s order declaring a state of emergency in Missouri is set to expire June 15.

Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, opposed the amendment. She said the president or the World Health Organization shouldn’t dictate how to run Missouri’s elections, even during a pandemic.

“I think Missouri needs to make decisions for Missouri,” Toalson Reisch said.

Currently, Missouri law allows people to cast absentee ballots only if they state that they will be unable to go to the polls on election day because of any of six reasons, such as absence from the area or confinement due to illness or physical disability. The bill adds COVID-19 concerns to the eligible reasons.

The committee inserted the provision into a thick substitute for SB 552, which now contains numerous elections proposals from other lawmakers. The full House is considering the bill this week.