There are six reasons a Missouri voter may be able to qualify for an absentee ballot. None of them are “fear of contracting the coronavirus.”

At a Zoom forum Friday held by Empower Missouri, Missouri Voter Protection Coalition coordinator Denise Lieberman and Representative Trish Gunby, D-St. Louis, spoke about how they hope to change this.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has not released statewide guidance for how counties should set up voting, leaving it up to local election authorities, Lieberman said. Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon said voters should consider applying for absentee ballots for the June 2 municipal election.

“If the voter is trying to comply with CDC guidelines and local directives in social distancing and is confining themselves to their home and would prefer to vote absentee, then we do encourage them to apply,” she said.

This, however, is not the case across the state. Jackson County, for example, does not qualify concern about catching the coronavirus as a valid reason to vote absentee, Lieberman said.

Mail-in voting has been an ongoing issue for the country, as well, with states like Wisconsin going ahead with in-person voting in the presidential primary election despite health concerns.

The Missouri Voter Protection Coalition issued a set of policy recommendations for the state that would allow for more accessible voting. They included expanding absentee voting by mail and in person, providing more access to voter registration, making changes to polling places and providing more voter education.

The CDC also recommends that states encourage mail-in and early voting. Missouri does not allow early voting.

Lieberman said the group is also putting pressure on Gov. Mike Parson to use his powers under Missouri’s state of emergency to overrule the current laws in light of the pandemic.

Gundy noted that there have been 78 bills regarding elections filed in Missouri this year.

“The thing that I think is really interesting about all of this is that virtually none of these have made it through committee and onto the House floor,” she said. “My belief is that is because voting is really not a priority, certainly not making it easier to vote.”

The coalition’s changes, Lieberman said, would help keep people safe while still protecting their right to vote.

“This is a scary time, and we’re all anxious. And we’re anxious about a lot of things, including voting, and we have reason to be because this pandemic is going to affect our ability to access democracy,” Lieberman said. “But I want to say this: We can ensure the proper functioning of our democracy in this state in 2020. Our leaders may not have the political will to do it, but we have the tools to do it.”

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Public life reporter, spring 2020. Studying print and digital news journalism. Reach me at skylarlaird@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

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