League of Women Voters discuss early and no-excuse absentee voting

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The League of Women Voters of Missouri is preparing to launch a study concerning three practices of early and no-excuse absentee voting, none of which are currently available in Missouri.

The National Conference of State Legislatures' Web site said that early voting gives citizens the opportunity to go in person to an election official’s office or, in some states, to satellite locations to cast their vote without presenting an excuse as to why they cannot vote on Election Day.

Offering no-excuse absentee voting would give people the option to sign up to receive a ballot by mail without having to provide a reason.

There is also no-excuse absentee voting with a permanent list. Voters on the permanent list would automatically receive a ballot by mail at election time.

Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said the permanent list could reduce the number of polling places needed on Election Day. Officials would know, prior to Election Day, the number of people who had already cast their votes, she said.

She added decreasing the number of polling places would potentially save money.

The league's board of directors approved questions to be used in the study on Sept. 11.

The issues of early and no-excuse absentee voting have been a topics of discussion among the league members many times, but a consensus has yet to be reached about whether the practices would be worthwhile.

“The seven surrounding states, except for Kentucky, allow for some form of early voting, which leads us to ask, 'Why don’t we?'” league president Lois Detrick said. “We want to find out the pros and cons of early voting and what the practices are around the country.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures' Web site, 32 states offer some form of early voting. The time period in which early voting is available varies from state to state, but it is typically permitted 10 to 14 days before an election.

As of October 2008, 28 states offered no-excuse absentee voting. Oregon conducts all of its elections solely by mail.

“I would like to see an option to go to all mail elections; it is the most cost efficient, and it seems to be the most convenient for people,” Noren said. “But there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this.”

Voting by mail allows for ballots to be sent out in advance. Doing so would give officials more time to solve many issues that arise at the polls prior to Election Day.

“We hope to come to a consensus for when it comes up in discussions later this year," Detrick said. “We want to know how our organization feels so we can advocate for one side or the other.”

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