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Missouri Governor Signs Bill Making Absentee Voting Easier For Some In Pandemic

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has approved a petition to allow Missouri voters to decide whether to expand Medicaid.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
The legislation will allow those who have or at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus to vote absentee without notarization.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday signed legislation allowing people at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus to vote absentee without needing an additional notarized statement. 

“Any Missourian affected by COVID-19 should still be able to vote, including those who are sick or considered at-risk,” Parson said in a statement. “I applaud Senator Dan Hegeman, Representative Dan Shaul, and the rest of 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.”

Currently, state law requires those who want an absentee ballot to fill out an application, and then have a notary or a witness sign the ballot. For the August and November elections, voters over the age of 65, or those with serious health conditions, will not need that notarization. People who are concerned about contracting the coronavirus, but don’t fall into the above categories, can request an absentee ballot, but the notarization requirement remains in place.

These provisions expire at the end of the year according to the bill language. 

Some local elections officials pushed Parson to go further by authorizing no-reason absentee voting in all elections. The governor, mimicking President Donald Trump, said this would lead to voter fraud.

“What we are against, and what President Trump is against, is voting absentee without a reason and without a signature verification,” said Parson. “That is a nonsecure way to handle voting absentee, as is ballot harvesting.” 

In a statement, the Missouri Democratic Party called Parson’s action “too little, too late.”

“The governor should have stepped up to protect Missourians’ right to vote before Tuesday’s low turnout local elections and he should have backed no-excuse absentee voting,” the statement read. “Instead, Parson today peddled the same baseless lies to justify voter suppression in the midst of a pandemic. 

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, whose office oversees elections, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.