One exception: COVID-19 at-risk voters
By SHERI GASSAWAY
A lawsuit seeking to allow all Missourians to vote by mail without a notary during the COVID-19 pandemic is on its way to trial, but the proceedings won’t begin until after the Aug. 4 primary election.
That means all mail-in ballots must be notarized, said Denise Lieberman, lawsuit co-counsel and general counsel to the Missouri VoterProtectionCoalition(MVPC).
The only exception is absentee ballots requested by voters who are in an at-risk category for contracting the virus.
‘GET BALLOTS IN THE MAIL ASAP’
“We are urging voters to get those ballots in the mail as soon as possible,” Lieberman said. “They must be received by local election authorities by the time polls close on Election Day, which is 7 p.m. on Aug. 4 for the primary election.
Lieberman said her organization has received numerous calls from voters about the absentee and mail-in ballot process. She said voters are concerned their ballots won’t get to the election authority on time to be counted.
“We normally don’t get any calls until election day,” Lieberman said. “According to Missouri law, absentee and mail-in ballots are to be given priority by the U.S. Postal Service. But the postal service is running behind.”
Additionally, she said the organization is getting questions about postage on the absentee and mail-in ballots. The envelope provided says “no postage necessary if mailed in the United States.”
“You can add postage, but I don’t know if it will make a difference,” Lieberman said. “We feel the ballots should be counted if they are postmarked by election day, and that the voters shouldn’t be penalized for something beyond their control. That’s why we’re moving ahead with the lawsuit.”
ABSENTEE AND MAIL-IN REQUIREMENTS
In May, the Missouri Legislature approved a measure expanding options for voting absentee or by mail in the 2020 elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. The expansion offers two options:
- A voter can request an absentee ballot if he/she is in an at-risk category for contracting the virus. This option does not require notarization.
- Any voter can request a mail-in ballot, whether or not they are at risk. However, this option does require an in-person notarization.
The lawsuit, led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri and MVPC on behalf of the NAACP of Missouri, the League of Women Voters of Missouri and several individuals, seeks to allow all Missourians to vote by mail during the pandemic without requiring their ballot to be notarized.
The lawsuit was originally led in the Cole County Circuit Court, where Judge Jon Beetem dismissed it, finding that it failed to show real, substantial claims necessary to change Missouri voting practices without the authorization of the Legislature.
The Missouri Supreme Court re- versed the court’s decision on June 23, ruling that Beetum was wrong to dismiss it and sent it back to the lower court for consideration.
However, on July 10, Beetem again denied the preliminary injunction saying the groups had failed to present new arguments.
“Absent evidence that the ‘consistently effective social distancing and related strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19’ could not be employed in the notary circumstances, the court concludes that plaintiffs have not made a convincing showing of irreparable harm from the notarization requirement for mail-in ballots,” he wrote.
The MVPC led an appeal to the court’s decision on July 13, seeking an expedited review. However, the won’t take place until after the Aug. 4 election.