JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Given the COVID-19 outbreak, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Missouri, and Missouri Voter Protection Coalition filed a lawsuit today seeking to make absentee mail-in balloting available to all eligible voters in Missouri.
The case was filed on behalf of the NAACP of Missouri, the League of Women Voters of Missouri, and several individuals.
Requiring voters to be physically present at their traditional polling places during the COVID-19 pandemic — where they will be congregating and waiting in line with others in order to vote — is contrary to the advice of public health experts and puts people’s health at risk.
Most states allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot. Missouri, however, 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.” These absentee ballots also do not require a notary seal.
With at least three elections in the upcoming months (June, August, and November), the lawsuit seeks a ruling from the court clarifying that all eligible voters who are confining themselves to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19 may invoke the confinement-due-to-illness reason for absentee voting in order to prevent large-scale disenfranchisement and to secure public health.
The lawsuit charges that refusing to allow no-excuse absentee voting — or in the alternative, refusing to allow voters who are confining themselves to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19 to vote absentee — is a violation of the right to vote under the Missouri Constitution and the state’s voting laws.
The following comments are from:
Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “No one should be forced to choose between staying safe and voting. Expanding absentee ballot access to all registered voters during the pandemic is a common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote.”
Nimrod Chapel, president of the NAACP of Missouri: “As an African American, there are members of our community who remember facing death just for exercising their constitutional right to vote. COVID-19 offers that same risk with Secretary Ashcroft’s dereliction of duty to provide safe elections, which is within his powers in Missouri state law. If Secretary Ashcroft fails to act, death will be the new poll tax in the state of Missouri.”
Tony Rothert of the ACLU of Missouri: “Missourians should not have to expose themselves to a deadly virus in order to vote. Despite some feigned confusion by elected officials, Missouri law allows absentee voting by mail in situations like this. The secretary of state knows this and could clear this up, but he insists a court should do it. We are taking his advice and going to court.”
Evelyn Maddox, president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri: “Missouri must expand and protect access to the ballot in these unprecedented times. We want any Missouri voter who is social distancing in compliance with CDC guidelines to be able to request an absentee ballot in 2020 and return it without a notary seal.”
Denise Lieberman, lawsuit co-counsel and general counsel to the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition: “Voters need clarity and confidence that they will be able to cast a ballot while abiding by the CDC’s recommendations for social distancing. Making voters chose between their health and their right to vote infringes on Missouri’s fundamental right to vote.”
The case, Missouri NAACP v. Missouri, was filed in Circuit Court of Cole County, Mo.
Case details: https://www.aclu.org/cases/missouri-naacp-v-missouri-0