GOP governor claims coronavirus not a valid reason to vote by mail

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson refuses to make it easier for residents to vote, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson claimed on Tuesday that safe voting options are a partisan issue, not a matter of public health.

Parson was asked during a press conference whether he thought the coronavirus pandemic was a valid excuse for residents to request an absentee ballot.

In Missouri, there are only six allowable excuses for voters to obtain an absentee ballot. A health crisis is not one of them.

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"I do not," Parson responded.

"Look," he added, "the absentee ballot is more a political issue than it is anything. This is a Democrat-Republican issue, and that's where this is all headed is to a political answer. There will be time to talk about the elections in November and August, but now's not the time for that."

In the past, Parson has opposed efforts to expand absentee voting options in response to the current crisis. He rescheduled Missouri's April 7 municipal elections for June 2, just seven weeks away.

Backlash to Parson's comment was swift.

"Making sure everyone can vote safely isn't a 'Democrat-Republican issue,'" tweeted Nicole Galloway, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Parson's potential challenger this November. "Missourians should be able to participate in our democracy without putting their lives at risk."

Republican officials were also concerned about Parson's position, wondering if he was unfamiliar with the specific reforms some officials wanted.

"I don't know why he'd feel it's politically motivated," Rick Watson, who heads the state's association of clerks and election authorities, told the Springfield News-Leader.

Watson said that clerks want Missouri residents to be able to request absentee ballots online, use drop boxes to return ballots, and create polling places that have more space than they usually do.

Parson's opposition to absentee voting mirrors claims by other Republicans, who have suggested mail-in ballots constitute fraud.

Donald Trump himself falsely claimed on April 7 that there was "a lot of dishonesty going along with mail-in voting."

"Mail ballots — they cheat. OK? People cheat," he said at the time.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States. In fact, the Republican National Committee recently sent mailers to voters in Pennsylvania that read, "Voting by mail is an easy, convenient and secure way to cast your ballot."

"Universal vote by mail has also proven to be at least as secure from fraud — and arguably more so — as traditional voting at polls," former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling wrote in 2016.

Other states have struggled with the issue of voting during a pandemic. By late March, at least nine states had already expanded absentee voting options.

But Republicans in Wisconsin opposed efforts by the state's Democratic governor, Tony Evers, to postpone the state's April 7 election and allow more time for voters to cast absentee ballots.

Voters there subsequently stood in long lines, with some waiting around long after the state's few polling locations, which were forced to serve tens of thousands of voters each, were closed — exposing them to the virus.

In the end, conservatives lost a race for a state Supreme Court seat.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.