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Missouri Secretary Of State Sued Over Absentee And Mail-In Ballot Rules

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft wants to raise the vote threshold needed to amend Missouri's Constitution.
File photo / Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, photographed during Lincoln Days in Maryland Heights in 2019, faces a lawsuit claiming "tens of thousands" of Missouri voters could unknowingly have their ballots rejected in November.

Five organizations advocating for voting rights are suing Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft over how absentee and mail-in ballots are handled.

The Organization for Black Struggle, Missouri Faith Voices, the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis section joined as plaintiffs on the lawsuit.

The groups claimed in a joint press release Friday that there was widespread confusion and frustration during the August elections. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western Division in Missouri, calls on the court to block voting rules that the organizations say disenfranchise first-time voters, older voters, Black voters and other voters of color.

Missouri created a new mail-in ballot option in June in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But casting a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot are not the same. Those differences, the lawsuit claims, have confused voters and caused them to have their votes disqualified because of minor errors, such as forgetting to check a box confirming an address. The suit also alleges that voters were not notified when their ballots had errors that would lead to disqualification.

Those issues are likely to arise again in November, according to attorney Denise Lieberman with the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, one of several legal organizations representing the voter advocates. The others are the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Dēmos and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“People that are absolutely eligible to cast a ballot but could not decipher the confusing two-tiered process ended up voiceless in August, and may end up voiceless again in November unless the court helps to simply streamline this process,” Lieberman said.

The suit calls on the court to allow mail-in and absentee ballots to be requested and returned in the same way, to halt ballots from being rejected for minor deficiencies and for voters to be notified when there’s a problem with their ballot in time for them to fix it.

“The sad part about this is, it didn’t have to be this way,” Lieberman said. ”The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition and all of the organizations that brought this suit submitted recommendations to our lawmakers at the beginning of the pandemic, in March.”

Instead, Lieberman said, the state went with an unnecessary, confusing system.

Attempts to reach Ashcroft’s office for comment Friday and Monday were unsuccessful.

Follow Becca on Twitter: @itsreallyflick

Becca is an intern with St. Louis Public Radio.