Missouri lawmakers wrapped up their work May 15 by passing bills allowing people to vote by mail because of the coronavirus, but their vote wasn’t enough to stop a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union for more expansive rights for Missouri voters to vote by mail.

Legislators signed off on special voting provisions for the 2020 elections shortly before their deadline to pass bills in an unusual legislative session that was interrupted for several weeks because of concerns about COVID-19.

Voters currently can request absentee ballots only if they provide an excuse for why they can’t vote in person. Currently acceptable excuses include being out of town on Election Day, being incapacitated, or even if they are incarcerated in some instances.

While Illness is one option, the law isn’t explicit on whether the illness excuse covers healthy voters concerned about catching or spreading COVID-19.

Under the bill sent to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, people considered at-risk of the coronavirus — those age 65 and older, living in a long-term care facility or with certain existing health problems — could vote absentee without needing to have their ballot notarized. Anyone else could cast a mail-in ballot but would need to get it notarized.

The bill passed with bipartisan support but received mixed reviews from both parties. Republicans said it doesn't include enough restrictions to ensure election security, and Democrats said it has too many rules.

“When you are not wanting to go to the polls because you are either ill or fearful of becoming ill, but then you have to go get a notary to be able to not go to the polls, it doesn't really fix the problem,” House Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade said.

ACLU Appeals Lawsuit Ruling

Undaunted by the Legislature’s action or by a negative ruling from a lower court, the civil rights groups appealed their voters’ rights case to the Missouri Supreme Court. A local judge dismissed their lawsuit seeking to allow all Missourians to vote absentee in upcoming elections to help reduce the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition on behalf of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and several residents. It claims that requiring voters to appear at traditional polling places during the pandemic puts lives at risk.

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