In Missouri, you may only vote by mail if you apply for an absentee ballot — and cite one of just six specific reasons detailed in state law. Among them are illness or disability, or the fact you’ll be traveling out of the area. “Fear of contracting COVID-19” is not listed among them.
The ACLU of Missouri argues that should, in fact, be sufficient cause for receiving an absentee ballot. Working in concert with the Missouri Voter Coalition, the organization filed a class-action lawsuit last Friday against the state of Missouri, the Missouri Secretary of State and a few local boards of election. It argues that the “illness or disability” clause in state law should apply to those staying at home to avoid the coronavirus, since it specifically mentions “confinement due to illness” as a qualifier.
Gov. Mike Parson has stated that he does not believe the pandemic is an acceptable reason to cast an absentee ballot. And Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has deferred to local election authorities. In the wake of that decision, the state’s two most populous counties — Jackson and St. Louis counties — have arrived at opposite conclusions. (St. Louis County supports absentee ballots.)
As the ACLU’s legal director points out, the stakes are high for citizens. Tony Rothert explained Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air that making a false statement on an absentee ballot application can result in your ballot being thrown out, losing your right to vote in future elections and even felony charges.
Rothert said he was surprised to see the secretary of state defer to local election boards.
“It seems like when they needed emergency rules for the voter ID law to go into effect, Secretary of State Ashcroft was really on top of that, and used his rule-making authority on an emergency basis to get some rules in place,” he said. “So, I’m surprised that he finds himself impotent to do anything about this situation.
“It presents a real problem,” he continued. “There are more than 100 local election authorities in Missouri, so you have a risk of 100 different interpretations, and that really changes the rules for voters, so people voting in the same election have a different right to vote, depending on where they live in the state.”
Ashcroft will join Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air to explain his perspective.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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