Missouri secretary of state accused of withholding cybersecurity reviews of election authorities | Sophia Fox-Sowell/StateScoop

Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick has released an audit report accusing Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft of violating state law by refusing to provide cybersecurity reviews of Missouri’s 116 local election authorities. House bill 1878, passed in 2022, mandates cybersecurity reviews every two years, with results to be submitted to the state auditor’s office. Ashcroft’s office disputes the findings, citing concerns about revealing confidential information. The audit also criticizes Ashcroft’s decision to end Missouri’s participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), impacting the accuracy of voting rolls. Despite Ashcroft’s defense, the audit suggests a lack of evaluation before exiting ERIC, leading to less efficient voter roll maintenance. Read Article

No, Missouri’s Secretary of State cannot legally remove Joe Biden from the 2024 ballot’ | Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft lacks the unilateral authority to disqualify President Joe Biden from the ballot, as only a court can make such a decision based on a lawsuit filed by another presidential hopeful. Participants in a decade-old case established limits on the secretary of state’s authority to decide on candidate qualifications, emphasizing that this power is delegated to the courts to prevent partisan political interference. Ashcroft had previously threatened to disqualify Biden if decisions in Colorado and Maine, where Donald Trump was ruled ineligible over the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021, were upheld. Read Article

Missouri GOP Secretary of State candidate wants all ballots counted by hand | Kurt Erickson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Missouri State Senator Denny Hoskins, a Republican running for the state’s top election official position, has filed legislation for the upcoming 2024 legislative session to require all ballots to be cast in paper form and hand-counted, repealing current state law allowing the use of automatic tabulating equipment. Critics of the proposed legislation, including fellow Republicans, express concerns about increased errors, delays, and additional costs associated with hand-counting ballots, emphasizing the accuracy and efficiency of electronic tabulation. Read Article

Missouri: Conspiracy theorists gather at summit to discuss rigged voting machines, 2020 election | Kelly Dereuck/Springfield News-Leader

The Election Crime Bureau Summit, organized by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, has kicked off with the goal of safeguarding future elections in the United States. Lindell and speakers at the summit, which features topics focusing on alleged corrupt voting machines, have proposed a shift back to paper ballots hand counted in front of the public to ensure election security. Despite facing challenges and legal charges, Lindell insists that the election loss in 2020 was part of a divine plan, with current losses and challenges being a part of God’s plan to save the country through their actions, as he emphasizes the importance of his election plan prior to the 2024 elections. Read Article

New Missouri law bans use of electronic voting machines | Davis Suppes/KOMU

Gov. Mike Parson signed five new measures into law Wednesday, including House bill 1878. The bill is focused on improving methods for Missourians to vote. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, the bill requires the use of a paper ballot that is hand-marked by the voter or marked in another authorized manner. Any election authority with direct recording, electronic vote-counting machines may continue using such machines until Jan. 1, 2024. These electronic vote-counting machines were first introduced back in 2002 with the first wave of electronic voting. There are currently zero of these machines used in Boone County and only two machines of its kind being used in the state of Missouri due to updates in technology, according to Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon. The technology was updated in favor of ballot-marking devices. The ballot-marking devices require the voter to put a piece of paper into the ballot-marking device machine. The voter can then use the touchscreen for accessibility purposes to make their selections.

Full Article: New Missouri law bans use of electronic voting machines | State News | komu.com

Missouri enacts new voter rules, including a photo ID requirement, and nixes presidential primaries for caucuses | Neil Vigdor/The New York Times

Missouri overhauled its election rules on Wednesday, enacting a voter identification law similar to one the state’s highest court blocked two years ago and doing away with its presidential primary in favor of a caucus system. The new law, which Gov. Michael L. Parson signed at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, requires voters to present a photo ID when casting a regular or absentee ballot. Those without such documentation will be required to fill out a provisional ballot that would be segregated until they provide photo identification or their signature is matched to the one kept on file by election officials. The voter identification rule was the latest instituted in a Republican-controlled state, and reflected the party’s continued mistrust of common voting practices, including the use of voting machines. It requires the use of hand-marked paper ballots statewide starting in 2023, with limited exceptions for certain touch-screen systems until the end of next year. Among the other changes is a prohibition against the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots — a practice that many Republicans criticized during the 2020 presidential election — and replacing Missouri’s presidential primary, held in recent years in March, with a series of caucuses.

Full Article: Missouri Enacts Strict New Voter Rules and Will Switch to Caucuses – The New York Times

Missouri photo ID bill adds extra steps for voters and those who run elections | Sarah Kellogg/St. Louis Public Radio

The election omnibus bill that Missouri lawmakers passed this year was originally a seven-page attempt to again implement a photo ID requirement in order to vote in the state. What made it past the finish line is a more than 50-page bill that includes not only the photo ID requirement, but also changes to absentee voting and the registration process, as well as new rules for election authorities across Missouri. Now as the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Parson, proponents and opponents are preparing to either enforce or challenge it. One aspect of the bill that is almost guaranteed to face a legal challenge is the requirement for voters to provide a photo ID in order to cast their ballot. A previous attempt at implementing a photo ID was struck down two years ago by the Missouri Supreme Court because the sworn statement portion of the law was deemed misleading. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is confident that this bill won’t have the same fate as its predecessor. “We’ve made it very clear, it’s very understandable to the people. And of course, we can still truthfully say, if you’re registered, you can vote. And that could never be said before 2017,” Ashcroft said. But that doesn’t mean opponents won’t try to make this year’s attempt at requiring a photo ID fail again. Denise Lieberman, director of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, said that while it’s urging Parson to veto the bill, she is prepared to challenge it in court if it does become law.

Source: Missouri photo ID bill affects voters and election authorities | STLPR

Missouri: Secretasry of State touts integrity of 2020 election, but supports an audit | Jason Hancock/Missouri Independent

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is confident Missouri’s 2020 election was safe and secure. And while he has concerns about things that transpired in other states last year, he dismisses the idea that fraud cost Donald Trump the presidential election. “Under our Constitution, Joe Biden was duly elected by our presidential electors. End of story,” Ashcroft said, later adding: “I have tried to be very consistent in saying that laws were not followed in different states, but I have not seen evidence that shows that the winners were changed by that.” At the same time, Ashcroft is on board with the push for Missouri lawmakers to create a new system for post-election audits — a cause that has become the rallying cry for conspiracy theorists peddling the lie of a stolen 2020 election. Ashcroft doesn’t buy into the conspiracies, but says he supports the push for audits because they could bolster voter confidence. “When I say that I believe our election was run securely, I do,” Ashcroft said. “But I have not gone back through and done a massive audit to prove that it was done well. And that’s how you know.” He’s not ready to roll out any specific ideas, he said, but is eager to work with state lawmakers when they return to Jefferson City in January. Missouri’s chief election official throwing his support behind the push for election audits is causing heartburn for some local officials and advocates around the state who fear it may feed into the drumbeat of baseless allegations about election fraud from Trump and his allies.

Full Article: Jay Ashcroft touts integrity of Missouri’s 2020 election, but supports an audit • Missouri Independent

Missouri Secretary of State wants ban on helping voters fix absentee ballot mistakes | Jonathan Shorman/The Kansas City Star

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft wants the General Assembly to ban local election workers from helping voters correct mistakes on absentee ballots, a change that could keep some votes from being counted. The request adds to a growing list of measures advanced by Republicans to alter the state’s election laws, including restoring rules requiring voters to show a photo ID and making it harder to amend the state constitution through ballot measures. Lawmakers failed to pass most proposals earlier this year, but proponents are signaling they will try again in 2022. The proposals come as GOP legislators indulge lingering conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 presidential election. Missouri Republicans are also keen on curbing Democrats’ success at passing progressive policies through statewide votes. Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana and minimum wage increases have all been approved by voters in recent years. “We would like to see legislation that does not allow for curing of absentee ballots,” Deputy Secretary of State Trish Vincent told the House Elections Committee last week, ‘curing’ being a common term for fixing errors.

Full Article: Top MO elections official: ban absentee ballot ‘curing’ | The Kansas City Star

Missouri elections hearing dominated by conspiracies, misinformation | Galen Bacharier/Springfield News-Leader

A meeting of a Missouri House elections committee Tuesday was dominated by conspiracy and misinformation, as lawmakers heard hours of testimony about election security that often had little to no basis in truth. Several people speaking to the panel also recommended changes to the Show-Me State’s ballot initiative process, recommending that it be more difficult for voters to directly amend the state’s constitution or pass laws. The bulk of false information surrounding elections came from those who attended or followed a conference in South Dakota hosted by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell. Lindell, who has earned a national reputation as a close ally to former President Donald Trump, said he would reveal proof at the conference that showed the November 2020 election was fraudulent — but he and his theories have been widely discredited by both election and cybersecurity experts. Rep. Ann Kelley, a Lamar Republican, testified in front of the committee, telling them she attended Lindell’s conference and that there was an urgent need to reinforce security around Missouri’s elections. Kelley was invited to speak by a member of the committee and “encouraged to bring what she learned” from the conference by chairman Rep. Dan Shaul, an Imperial Republican. County clerks around the state and Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft have said that the Show-Me State’s 2020 elections took place securely, and there were no widespread instances of voter fraud. Trish Vincent, who serves as Ashcroft’s chief of staff, told the committee the state has “a very secure system” with “layers of security.”

Full Article: Missouri elections hearing dominated by conspiracies, misinformation

As Missouri Senate contenders peddle conspiracies, what’s the damage to democracy? | Bryan Lowry and Jonathan Shorman/The Kansas City Star

One Republican candidate in Missouri’s Senate race skipped the state party’s annual convention last week and traveled instead to Arizona, where he toured the site of a discredited 2020 election audit and falsely claimed it could lead to decertification of the results. Another contender recently announced a campaign event in the St. Louis suburbs with a former Trump administration official beloved by supporters of QAnon. Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and St. Louis lawyer Mark McCloskey are making once fringe positions key pieces of their message to voters as they vie for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. It’s a strategy being pursued by Republican candidates in races across the country ahead of 2022, as rhetoric from those seeking to undermine the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s decisive victory over former President Donald Trump continues to escalate. “There’s this weaponization and mainstreaming of disinformation,” said Daniel Weiner, deputy director of election reform at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s a troubling number of folks who are willing to traffic in this misinformation. It doesn’t mean it’s overtaken either party, but it’s become far too mainstream for comfort.” Election experts warn that as the ongoing misinformation campaign about the 2020 election continues to find a firm foothold within a faction of the Republican Party, it poses a long-term threat to the institution of democracy.

Full Article: As Missouri Senate contenders peddle conspiracies, what’s the damage to democracy?

Missouri: GOP Leaders Condemn Sen. Josh Hawley After Pro-Trump Riot At U.S. Capitol | Elena Moore/NPR

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley continues to face intense criticism for his decision to challenge the presidential election results, the futile enterprise that helped fuel pro-Trump rioters. Hawley was the first U.S. senator to publicly vow to challenge the Electoral College tally, leading the effort with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Shortly before things escalated, a photo was taken outside the Capitol building of Hawley greeting the Trump loyalists with a happy fist-pump. Lawmakers were scheduled to officially recognize President-elect Biden’s win Wednesday but the proceedings were interrupted for hours when a pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol building. The event led to a woman being shot and killed by Capitol police, and a police officer dying of injuries sustained in the melee. As Congress reconvened Wednesday evening, shaken from the violence earlier that day, Hawley continued to challenge the election results in both Arizona and Pennsylvania with the backing of a smaller group of senators than originally planned. “I actually think it’s very vital what we do, the opportunity to be heard, to register objections is very vital. Because this is the place where those objections should be heard and dealt with, debated and finally resolved,” Hawley said in a speech late Wednesday evening. “In this lawful means, peacefully, without violence, without attacks, without bullets,” he added. The challenges were rejected by the majority of the Senate and House. Since Wednesday, Missouri leaders and constituents as well as members of the GOP establishment have condemned Hawley’s actions in the Senate and his rhetoric leading up to the riot.

Full Article: GOP Leaders Condemn Sen. Josh Hawley After Pro-Trump Riot At U.S. Capitol : NPR

Missouri House resolution challenging election results dies | ustin Huguelet/Springfield News-Leader

The Missouri House won’t be demanding investigations into election results in battleground states after all. Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, filed a resolution earlier this month demanding inquiries into unproven allegations of fraud in six states critical to President Trump’s defeat last month, and quickly drew GOP support. Sixty-six of 114 House Republicans signed the letter addressed to Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, asking him to allow them to consider the resolution before adjourning a special session called to deal with budget issues. Haahr obliged, and a committee led by Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, voted 6-3 to advance the measure Monday after tense debate and a cameo from Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.

Full Article: Missouri House resolution challenging election results dies

Missouri: No Excuse? No Problem — That’s Where Some Want To Move State’s Absentee Ballot System | Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

The coronavirus pandemic exposed Missouri’s complex absentee balloting system. Before 2020, voters needed to check off a specific excuse to vote earlier. But on the final day of this year’s General Assembly regular session, lawmakers expanded how Missourians could cast an absentee ballot in a manner that many found confusing and unintuitive. With that absentee ballot expansion set to go away at the end of the year, some election officials and lawmakers want to keep things simple on how to permanently change how Missourians vote early. “They don’t need an excuse. Just come in and get it done,” said Republican Henry County Clerk Rick Watson. “We work so hard to get people registered. I don’t know why we can’t make it easier to cast their ballot without having to make up an excuse that they’re not going to be able to go to the poll.” Many of Missouri’s county clerks and election authority officials have wanted to scrap the state’s list of possible excuses to obtain an absentee ballot for years, contending, among other things, that it’s basically impossible to do anything if voters don’t actually have a reason for voting early. And while nobody feels the push for a no-excuse system will be a slam dunk, supporters are hoping the idea gains more traction after this year’s contentious election cycle. “The Legislature has not had much appetite for election administration reform lately,” said St. Louis County Democratic Elections Director Eric Fey. “I don’t know if I hold out a lot of hope. But if there’s any chance, it should probably be this session because it’s front in everybody’s mind after the presidential election.”

Full Article: No Excuse? No Problem — That’s Where Some Want To Move Missouri’s Absentee Ballot System | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Voting Rights Advocates Suffer Another Setback Days Before Election | Dan Margolies/St. Louis Public Radio

Missourians who vote by mail must return their ballots by mail and not in person following a federal appeals court’s order. A coalition of civil rights groups last month sued Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and local election officials, including the Jackson County Election Board, arguing Missouri’s rules for absentee and mail-in voting are “burdensome and unjustified.” Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes agreed that not allowing mail-in ballots to be dropped off in person or by a relative risked disenfranchising voters, and he blocked the requirement. But Ashcroft appealed Wimes’ ruling, and on Thursday the 8 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis stayed the ruling until it can decide the matter. Because the appeals court hasn’t scheduled a briefing for the case and Election Day is little more than a week away, it’s almost certain it won’t issue its decision before then. That would leave its stay in place, effectively leaving the Missouri vote-by-mail requirement intact.

Missouri: State gives $4.5 million in federal funding to local election authorities | Alisa Nelson/Missourinet

The state has given about $4.5 million in federal money to Missouri’s 116 local election authorities. During a visit with reporters this week in Jefferson City, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft says he hopes the money will help poll workers. “We made sure that everyone got at least $20,000, so that even our smallest jurisdictions had enough to really make a difference. One of the things that I’ve suggested, probably suggested it so many times that the election authorities are tired of me mentioning it, is that they should use a portion of those funds to increase their poll worker pay,” he says. Ashcroft, a Republican, has said during other occasions that the poll worker job is intense. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. the day of elections. Workers have to be there before the doors open and they stay after polls close to count ballots and to do other tasks.

Missouri: Court hears lawsuit again about mail-in voting law | Alisa Nelson/Missourinet

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetum is considering a lawsuit designed to let all Missouri voters cast a ballot by mail this year without a notarized signature. The NAACP of Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri are suing the state and contend that a new law requiring some voters to get a notary could put their health and the health of others at risk during the COVID-19 outbreak. Beetum dismissed the case in May and said the groups did not state a claim. He went on to say they are trying to get widespread absentee voting for all future elections. The case was then appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court and the high court reversed Beetum’s decision. It said the groups actually stated a claim. Plaintiffs want the court to block the notarization requirement in Senate Bill 631. Under the plan, all registered Missouri voters can mail in their ballot this year, if requested, and the ballot envelope must be notarized.

Missouri: State Supreme Court sending absentee voting case back to Cole County Circuit Court | Brian Hauswirth/Missourinet

The Missouri Supreme Court issued a decision on Tuesday involving absentee voting, ruling that a lawsuit that aims to allow all Missourians to cast absentee ballots without notarization in 2020 can proceed. The Supreme Court is sending the case back to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. The decision means the lawsuit from the NAACP of Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri can proceed. The circuit court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding the plaintiffs had stated a claim and remanded the case to the circuit court so the parties can proceed. The organizations filed a lawsuit in mid-Missouri’s Cole County, challenging the constitutional validity of absentee voting legislation that was approved by the Missouri Legislature on the final day of session in May. Governor Mike Parson (R) signed the legislation from State Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, in June. It expands voting by mail through the rest of 2020. There are two but separate options under the bill.

Missouri: Governor signs bill that expands mail-in voting options for August, November elections | Crystal Thommas/The Kansas City Star

All Missourians will be eligible to vote by mail during the August and November elections, under a bill signed by Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday. A majority of voters, however, will need to have their ballot notarized under the new law, which expires at the end of the year. The legislation was passed to give Missourians more options to vote in the face of a possible resurgence of the novel coronavirus in the summer and fall. “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. Voters who fall within “at-risk” categories as defined in the law can vote absentee and will not need notary approval. Those include those 65 or older, immunocompromised, or have certain chronic or respiratory illnesses.

Missouri: ‘There’s no handbook for this.’ Tuesday’s election will test voter safety in pandemic | Crystal Thomas and Allison Kite/The Kansas City Star

The day before he buried his wife, Orville Amos limped into the Kansas City Election Board’s office to vote absentee. For 25 years, the 75-year-old Navy veteran was first in line at his precinct’s polling place to cast his ballot in person. That would earn him a sticker he could show off in the election authority offices, where his wife had worked for 23 years. The excitement Amos once felt about voting is gone now, eclipsed by grief over the death of his wife from lung cancer on March 25. And fear of the novel coronavirus. “You know we are in that age group where we are the target of this virus,” Amos said, clad in a white mask. “It’s intimidating to come out in public even to go to the grocery store.” Concerns about voter safety led Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to move the April 7 local elections to June 2. On ballots across the state will be city council races, school board contests and local sales tax levies for improvement projects. Most votes will be cast in-person, as Missouri does not have “no-excuse” absentee voting. Nor does it provide for early voting outside of its absentee process. There are six valid excuses to vote absentee, but fear of catching a potentially fatal disease for which there is no vaccine or treatment is not an official one. Election authorities have had to struggle to retrofit voting to the pandemic age. Where 115 polling places were once available in Kansas City, there are now 28. Many traditional sites—mostly churches and senior centers—have dropped out. A corps of about 1,200 volunteer election judges who initially signed up, many of them in the at-risk age range of 65-plus, is down to 400.

Missouri: Governor: if you don’t feel safe, ‘don’t go out and vote’ | Crystal Thomas/The Kansas City Star

Ahead of Tuesday’s local elections, Gov. Mike Parson said Missourians should prioritize their safety over voting. “I hope people feel safe to go out and vote, but if they don’t, you know, the No. 1 thing — their safety should be No. 1,” Parson said during Thursday’s press briefing. “If they don’t, then don’t go out and vote.” Most Missouri voters will be deciding on city council and school board races, or local ballot measures Tuesday. Parson signed an executive order March 18 to move elections planned for April 7 to June 2 because of concern caused by the rising number of Missourians infected with the novel coronavirus. Unlike several states, Missouri does not offer “no-excuse” absentee voting, and most voters are only eligible to cast their ballot in-person.

Missouri: Judge Rejects Bid for Widespread Absentee Voting | Joe Harris/Courthouse News

A lawsuit seeking to allow absentee voting for all eligible Missourians in light of the Covid-19 crisis was dismissed by a state judge who found that the complaint asked for measures that went beyond concerns over the pandemic. “The court takes very seriously the health concerns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic that plaintiffs allege in their petition, but the relief plaintiffs seek is not limited to Covid-19 and goes far beyond the health concerns they raise,” Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem wrote in his opinion Tuesday. He continued, “Plaintiffs are seeking a radical and permanent transformation of Missouri voting practices without the authorization of the Legislature.” The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit, has appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. “We don’t think the case should have been dismissed,” ACLU lawyer Tony Rothert said in an interview. “But, on the other hand, we all knew this was going to a Missouri Supreme Court resolution and this will get it there faster.”

Missouri: Lawsuit for absentee voting amid virus appealed | Summer Ballentine/Associated Press

Civil rights groups on Tuesday appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court after 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 in Jefferson City 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. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem in a Monday judgment tossed the lawsuit, writing that the civil rights groups who sued were asking for widespread absentee voting for all future elections regardless of whether COVID-19 is still around. Beetem wrote that the plaintiffs sought “radical and permanent transformation of Missouri voting practices without the authorization of the Legislature.” Voters currently can request absentee ballots only if they provide an excuse for why they can’t vote in person. Illness is one option, but the law isn’t explicit on whether the illness excuse covers healthy voters concerned about catching or spreading COVID-19.

Missouri: GOP pushes bill that would force some to risk their health to vote | Dan Desai Martin/The American Independent

Voting rights advocates slammed new legislation passed in the Missouri House of Representatives because it would force voters to continue to have absentee ballots notarized before they are submitted. The new GOP-backed legislation would allow any registered voter in the state to request an absentee ballot for any reason, replacing the current requirement that provides only six approved reasons to request one. But Republican lawmakers refused to remove the provision in current Missouri law that requires that absentee ballots be notarized, saying that it is needed to combat voter fraud. In addition, the legislation requires voters to request an absentee ballot either in person or by mail. They cannot do so online or by email. Voting rights groups criticized the new rules. “Voting by mail should be safe and accessible, and having voters find and be in contact with a notary places an undue burden on voters and undermines public health during a global pandemic,” said Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesperson for Let America Vote, in an email on Friday.

Missouri: Mail-in-voting option tucked into wide-sweeping elections bill | Emily Wolf/Columbia Missourian

An amendment to allow expanded mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic grew from five pages to 31 overnight, morphing into a piece of legislation that would change Missouri’s voter ID laws, fees for ballot initiatives and running for office. The proposal, passed through the House as part of a larger bill, would allow voting by mail in the August and November statewide elections without voters stating a reason they cannot make it to polls. The bill would expire at the end of the year. Currently, Missouri law only allows people to cast absentee ballots if they say they’ll be unable to make it to the polls for any of six reasons, including absence from the area or confinement due to illness or physical disability. Officials across the state have been split on whether that reason applies to fears of contracting COVID-19. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has not released guidance on how counties should set up voting, leaving it in the hands of local election authorities.

Missouri: State moving to allow mail-in voting during pandemic | Kurt Erickson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Missouri could offer “no excuse” mail-in ballots to all voters this year in an effort to ward off the spread of the coronavirus. The proposal, adopted by the House on Wednesday, would work like an absentee ballot, but it would not require voters to state a reason why they can’t go to the polls on Election Day. It would only be available in the August and November statewide elections. Voters would still have to get the ballot envelope notarized before it could be submitted. Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, who sponsored the provision, said voters would be able to request a mail-in ballot in person or by mail. The proposed change, which still needs Senate approval, comes after county clerks and voting rights groups have said people shouldn’t have to risk going to polling places during a global pandemic.

Missouri: State Pushes Back on Absentee Voting for All Residents | Joe Harris/Courthouse News

A lawyer for Missouri argued Tuesday that a lawsuit seeking to allow all eligible voters in the state to cast absentee ballots in light of Covid-19 pandemic is overly broad and would fundamentally change how those ballots are issued. In a hearing Tuesday afternoon in Cole County Circuit Court, Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer argued the case should be dismissed. “The relief plaintiffs are asking for would make absentee voting the dominant form of voting in Missouri,” Sauer argued before Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. “Traditionally, absentee voting has been considered the exception to the rule rather than the rule.” The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Missouri and Missouri Voter Protection Coalition filed the lawsuit on April 17 seeking to make absentee mail-in balloting available to all eligible voters in Missouri. It was filed on behalf of the NAACP of Missouri, the League of Women Voters of Missouri and several individual voters. Missouri law requires voters to provide an excuse in order to vote absentee. One of the allowable reasons is “incapacity or confinement due to illness or physical disability.”

Missouri: Missouri coalition calls for no-excuse absentee voting | Glenn Minnis/The Center Square

The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition is pushing to make voting easier for residents across the state, recently outlining a set of recommendations that include expanding absentee voting by mail and in-person because of the COVID-19 crisis.  “This is a scary time, and we’re all anxious,” Protection Coalition coordinator Denise Lieberman recently said during a Zoom forum held by Empower Missouri, where state Rep. Trish Gunby (D-St. Louis) also spoke. “We’re anxious about a lot of things, including voting, and we have reason to be because this pandemic is going to affect our ability to access democracy.” While the lingering effects of the deadly virus have made the issue of acceptable forms of voting a red-hot topic, Lieberman stressed there are other reasons the option of absentee voting should be a viable one.  “I want to say this: We can ensure the proper functioning of our democracy in this state in 2020,” she added. “Our leaders may not have the political will to do it, but we have the tools to do it.”

Missouri: ACLU Explains Its Lawsuit To Force Vote-By-Mail Option | Sarah Fenske/St. Louis Public Radio

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. But the ACLU of Missouri believes that should, in fact, be sufficient cause to cast 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 include those staying at home to avoid the coronavirus, since it specifically mentions “confinement due to illness” as a qualifier.

Missouri: Civil rights groups sue Missouri in effort to expand absentee voting amid pandemic | Austin Huguelet/Springfield News-Leader

Civil rights groups sued state and local election authorities Friday in an effort to ensure people can vote by mail if they’re staying home amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a lawsuit filed Friday, plaintiffs led by the ACLU of Missouri asked a judge to declare that state law allowing someone to vote absentee due to “incapacity or confinement due to illness” applies to people sheltering in place. Currently, it’s not clear that’s the case, creating confusion with municipal contests all over the state set for June 2. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican and the state’s top elections official, has declined to clarify the issue, saying it’s not his place.