May 15, 2020

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Legislature passed a bill tonight making mail voting available to all registered voters in Missouri. The action follows a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Missouri, and Missouri Voter Protection Coalition on behalf of several individuals and the Missouri NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Missouri.

With at least three elections in the upcoming months (June, August, and November), the lawsuit sought 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 charged that refusing to allow voters who are confining themselves to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19 to vote absentee was a violation of the right to vote under the Missouri Constitution and the state’s voting laws.

The Legislature voted tonight to allow voters who are ill and who are at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19 to cast absentee ballots without a notary, and to permit all registered voters to vote by mail. 

But unless voters are casting absentee ballots due to illness or because they are at high risk for COVID-19, voters who vote by mail under the new legislation will still need to obtain a notary seal on their ballot envelope. These expansions apply during 2020 and expire at the end of the year. 

The following comments are from:

Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “Protecting people’s health should be a top priority in the middle of this pandemic. The Legislature’s action to expand absentee ballot access to certain high-risk individuals and provide a vote-by-mail option to all voters is the right thing to do. While there is still some work to be done to ensure all Missourians are able to vote safely during COVID-19, this step marks a victory for voters.”

Tony Rothert of the ACLU of Missouri: “Today’s advance in protecting voting rights for Missourians represents a welcome departure from Legislature’s decades-long campaign to enact barriers to voting. It should not take a pandemic for modern voting practices to make an appearance in our state.”

Denise Lieberman, general counsel to the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition and lawsuit co-counsel: “While we are gratified that lawmakers took measures to ensure, as the CDC has recommended, that voters refrain from crowded polling places and vote by mail where possible this year, many voters must still get their ballot notarized. This is a good first step, but we still have work to do to ensure that Missouri voters are able to safely cast their ballots in 2020.”

Case details: https://www.aclu.org/cases/missouri-naacp-v-missouri-0

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