KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday he currently sees “no reason” to extend a new law, due to expire at the end of the year, that expanded access to mail-in voting — signaling that the state’s brief flirtation with the voting option will come to an end.
Amid the pandemic, the Republican governor signed a bill in June making all residents eligible to vote by mail in the August and November elections. But the law requires most to have their ballot notarized. The provision has proved a frustrating obstacle, according to voting rights advocates.
The law marked a departure for a state with only limited mail-in voting options. It will expire at the end of 2020, however, absent a new bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by Parson.
Parson told The Kansas City Star he doesn’t see a need to act right now, when asked if the law should be made permanent or allowed to expire.
“I think we want to see where we’re at this year,” Parson said after an event in Kansas City. “We’ve got to get through this general election and see where we’re at. But right now, the way that legislation works it will end at the end of the year, so I have no reason to change that at this point.”
The new law allows everyone to vote by mail, but most people have to get their ballot notarized. Voters 65 or older, immunocompromised, or who have certain chronic or respiratory illnesses, are exempt from the notarization rule.
In the past, the only acceptable excuses to vote absentee by mail included being away from where you’re registered; incapacitation from illness; caring for someone with a disability; having a religious belief or practice that in-person voting would violate; working as an election official and being in a witness protection program or incarcerated.
Reviews of the notarization rule from voting rights advocates haven’t been kind. Jean Dugan, director of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, said the law’s multiple layers have led to confusion.
Voters getting their ballots notarized must return them by mail, but exempt voters can return ballots in person, for example.
The League of Women Voters is part of a lawsuit filed in Cole County that challenges the notarization requirement and other aspects of Missouri election. The suit is in preliminary stages and no trial has been scheduled yet.
“It’s really discouraging when we thought the goal of the Legislature’s actions in the last week of session was to make it easier to vote. Instead, we’re getting dozens of calls every week,” Dugan said.
Dugan said she had recently received a request for 10 mail-in ballot request forms from a person who wants to hold a party to explain the rules requirements to their friends.
“Well, that’s ridiculous,” Dugan said.
Parson’s review of the law is much more upbeat.
“I think they’re good. We’ve been through two elections now with that process, so I think that’s good,” Parson said, adding that the primary went smoothly. “We know there’s going to be more voters, but I think everybody’s prepared for that.”
The law’s expiration at the end of the year means the 2021 General Assembly and the next governor — whether it’s Parson or Democrat Nicole Galloway, the current state auditor — will likely confront the mail-in voting issue.
Galloway campaign spokesman Kevin Donohoe said Missouri’s notary requirement is voter suppression.
“It makes voting absentee more difficult by design. Missouri voters need a simple, straightforward solution. Not a flow chart with multiple options,” Donohoe said. “Governor Parson should let voters vote absentee without requiring a notary in 2020. Anything less is intentional voter suppression.”
Galloway has previously noted that Missouri is one of 11 states that requires access to a notary to vote absentee.
If Galloway wins, opposition to any further expansion of mail-in voting is likely to be intense.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican who is also on the November ballot, opposes permanent expansion of mail-in voting. He said he understands some people can’t vote in person, but contends in-person is the best way to vote.
“That’s not only for the security of the election, it’s not only to get the results as (quickly as) possible, but it’s also the best way to make sure that your vote counts,” Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft compared voting to turning in a winning lottery ticket.
“Are you telling me that you’re going to put that in an envelope and mail that in there? Or are you going to drive that down there with friends to make sure it gets there?” Ashcroft said. “We need to treat votes the same way.”
Ashcroft doesn’t yet know how many voters cast ballots in the August primary under the new mail-in procedures. Maura Browning, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said those figures will be tabulated by local election officials and provided to Ashcroft within the next week or so.
©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)