Any registered voter in Missouri will be able to cast a vote by mail in the upcoming August and November elections, thanks to legislation Gov. Mike Parson signed June 4. The new law makes it easier for people to vote from home because of COVID-19.
But there are some important things Missouri voters need to know about the law and its restrictions. The Missouri Information Corps found answers to some of the questions you might have as you prepare to vote Aug. 4.
Absentee voting for the primary began last week and voters may request an absentee ballot to vote by mail until July 22.
We spoke to Jasper County Clerk Charlie Davis, Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, and Eric Fey, the Democratic director of elections at the St. Louis County Board of Elections. We also consulted a spokesperson for the Secretary of State and information provided on the website.
Here’s what we learned.
Can everyone vote absentee because of COVID-19 risks?
No. Only registered voters who are in "an at-risk category for contracting or transmitting" COVID-19 or voters who have contracted COVID-19 can select the new option that allows them to vote via absentee ballot.
Individuals considered "at-risk" include people who:
Are age 65 or older;
Live in long-term care facilities;
Have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
Have serious heart conditions;
Have chronic kidney disease that requires dialysis treatments
Have liver disease
If you do not fall into one of these categories, you cannot legally cast an absentee ballot because of COVID-19 concerns. (However, you might still be able to select one of the other valid reasons to vote absentee.)
If I had COVID-19 and have since recovered, can I cast an absentee ballot using the new coronavirus excuse?
Yes. You can select the new coronavirus excuse to vote with an absentee ballot if you "have contracted" COVID-19 at any time, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State confirmed.
How do I request an absentee ballot?
First, complete an absentee ballot request, and return it to your local election authority either by mail, by email or by fax. You can also turn in the absentee ballot request application in person.
If you wish to vote absentee and cannot request the ballot yourself, a close relative, such as your spouse, parent or child, may request an absentee ballot in person on your behalf. It is important to send your absentee ballot request to your local election authority, not the Secretary of State’s office. Information on your local election authority can be found here.
Does my absentee ballot need to be notarized?
Sometimes. There are only two exemptions to the requirement that your ballot envelope be notarized if you’re voting absentee.
If you’re voting via absentee ballot because you’re incapacitated or confined due to illness or physical disability, your absentee ballot envelope does not need to be notarized. This exemption also applies if you’re caring for a person who is incapacitated or confined for those reasons. Similarly, if you’re voting absentee because you’re at risk for COVID-19 or have contracted the virus, your ballot envelope does not need to be notarized.
Where can I find a notary?
Election officials, including county clerks and board of elections officials, have notaries in their offices. Officials also recommend going to your local bank, as most banks have a notary on staff. Other places you might be able to find a notary include a university registrar’s office, the local courthouse or a library.
Will it cost anything to have my absentee ballot envelope notarized?
No. Having your absentee ballot envelope notarized is always free. It is against Missouri law for a notary public to charge you for notarizing an absentee ballot envelope.
Notaries should know not to charge you for notarizing an absentee ballot envelope. But if a notary asks you to pay, county clerks recommend that you remind them it is against the law to charge for absentee ballot services. You can contact your local election authority with concerns or questions.
I can’t vote absentee. Does that mean I have to vote in-person on election day?
No. This new law means all registered voters in Missouri have the option to vote by mail, regardless of whether the law considers you a member of an at-risk category. However, if you choose to request a mail-in ballot because you’re concerned about contracting COVID-19 and you do not qualify for an absentee ballot, you will have to get your ballot envelope notarized before you mail it back to your local election authority.
Will it cost anything to have my mail-in ballot envelope notarized?
This might depend on where you go.
The law does not prevent notaries from charging to notarize mail-in ballots, but there are some places you can go to have your ballot notarized for free. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State said employees in county clerk's offices and in board of elections’ offices will notarize your ballot envelope for free.
How do I request a mail-in ballot?
First, complete a mail-in ballot request, found here, and return it to your local election authority either in person or by mail. You cannot request a mail-in ballot by email.
If you wish to vote by mail and cannot request the ballot yourself, a close relative, such as your spouse, parent or child, may complete a mail-in ballot request in person on your behalf. It is important to send your mail-in ballot request to your local election authority, not the Secretary of State’s office. Information on your local election authority can be found here.
When is the deadline to request an absentee or mail-in ballot?
To have your ballot mailed to you, your request for an absentee or mail-in ballot must be received by your local election authority by 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday prior to election day. For the August election, this means the deadline is 5 p.m. on July 22.
However, you may request an absentee ballot in person up until the day before election day.
How can I return my absentee ballot?
You can return your absentee ballot by mail or in person. Just be sure to have your ballot to your local election authority by 7 p.m. on election day. If you’re returning your absentee ballot by mail, election officials recommend mailing your ballot seven days before the election.
How can I return my mail-in ballot?
A mail-in ballot can only be returned by U.S. mail.
For your vote to be counted, your local election authority must receive your ballot by 7 p.m. on election day, so mailing it early is key. Election officials recommend mailing your ballot seven days before the election.
Will I be able to request a mail-in ballot for elections after 2020?
No. The provisions that allow all Missouri residents to choose to vote by mail expire December 31, 2020. The seventh option that allows voters to request absentee ballots if they are at-risk for COVID-19 expires Dec. 31 as well.
This story was produced by the Missouri Information Corps, a project of the Missouri School of Journalism. Have tips for us? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.