Missouri GOP pushes bill that would force some to risk their health to vote

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Democrats and voting rights groups criticize legislation that requires all absentee ballots to be notarized.

Voting rights advocates slammed new legislation passed in the Missouri House of Representatives because it would force voters to continue to have absentee ballots notarized before they are submitted.

The new GOP-backed legislation would allow any registered voter in the state to request an absentee ballot for any reason, replacing the current requirement that provides only six approved reasons to request one.

But Republican lawmakers refused to remove the provision in current Missouri law that requires that absentee ballots be notarized, saying that it is needed to combat voter fraud.

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In addition, the legislation requires voters to request an absentee ballot either in person or by mail. They cannot do so online or by email.

Voting rights groups criticized the new rules.

"Voting by mail should be safe and accessible, and having voters find and be in contact with a notary places an undue burden on voters and undermines public health during a global pandemic," said Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesperson for Let America Vote, in an email on Friday.

Voting by mail should not be "clogged with additional obstacles like this," said Seth Bringman of the vote protection group Fair Fight in an email. "Voter fraud is extremely rare in America, but that hasn't stopped folks from perpetuating the myth and using it as justification to erect barriers that make it harder to vote."

While notaries in Missouri are not allowed to charge fees for certifying absentee ballots, the new legislation would still require voters to make the effort to find a notary public and have them perform the service.

On April 6, the state's Republican Gov. Mike Parson issued an executive order allowing notaries to certify documents via videoconference, but the Springfield News-Leader reported on May 14 that very few notaries had filed the required paperwork to do so.

In addition, Missouri is ranked 32nd nationally in internet coverage among all the states; only 77% of the state has access to fast internet, and only 55% of the state has access to low-priced internet, defined as costing less than $60 a month.

Voters who are unable to access a notary online would be forced to risk their health by visiting one in person to have their absentee ballots certified, defeating the supposed purpose of the legislation.

The legislation is "not going to make it any more convenient for people to vote in this time of the pandemic," said Democratic Rep. Deb Lavender.

Republicans around the country have refused to accept ideas for making voting safer and easier during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton falsely stated that more absentee voting "damages the integrity of our elections and increases the risk of voter fraud," without any evidence.

In Wisconsin, conservatives in the state legislature and on the state Supreme Court forced voters to cast ballots in person despite an attempt by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to postpone the April 7 election and allow more time for voting by mail.

In Congress, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced the VoteSafe Act, which would ensure that all states offered no-excuse absentee voting, 20 days of early voting, and other reforms to allow more and safer voting options for Americans.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.