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Missouri voters will have expanded opportunities to vote by mail in 2020 after the legislature agreed to a compromise bill that broadened the reasons to obtain an absentee ballot but excluded but excluded a voter ID provision sought by the Secretary of State. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has more:
Over the objections of the state’s top election chief, Missouri lawmakers moved Friday to expand mail-in voting options during the global pandemic.
Missouri currently only allows people to mail their ballots for specific reasons, such as illness or travel away from home on Election Day.
Under legislation heading to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, voters can use the illness excuse if they are 65 or older or live in a nursing home. They also qualify if they have chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease or if their immune systems are compromised.
People who don’t qualify for one of the excuses also can use a mail-in option, but they will need to get their ballot notarized.
The proposal covers only the August and November statewide elections.
The major point of contention was the decision to exclude the revival of the state’s voter ID law, which drew criticism from SoS Jay Ashcroft:
The final version of the “no excuse” vote by mail proposal was worked out in a frenzy of activity Thursday night.
In doing so, however, negotiators removed language that revived part of the state’s controversial voter ID law, which was dumped by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who oversees the state’s elections, also said he could not support the removal of the voter identification provisions.
“Without the agreed-upon safeguards, I have grave concerns that this bill will make voting less secure and jeopardize the integrity of our elections,” Ashcroft said.
As you might expect, voter ID engendered renewed debate in the Legislature:
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, worried that people are using the pandemic to promote the possibility of voter fraud.
“I don’t like the idea that the voter ID fix was taken out of this. I have problems with a law that touches on our most sacred right,” Onder said.
But Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said the decision to allow mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic was the right thing to do.
“This was a late developing sort of thing that we felt, you know, was worthy of a last-minute push,” he said.
Although the bill does expand vote-by-mail, some groups are pushing for an even broader reading of the notion of “at risk” to allow anyone concerned about contracting the virus to cast a mail ballot:
A coalition of voting rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the League of Women Voters, also are pursuing legal action, arguing in Cole County court that people sheltering in place to avoid the spread of the virus should be able to use the illness excuse to vote by mail.
Missouri’s compromise bill is a positive development for many Show Me State voters, even if it doesn’t go far enough in one direction or another for some policymakers. Kudos to the legislature for finding a way to pull it together – now the work begins for local officials to make it happen in 2020. Stay tuned …