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Ozarks Tonight: Absentee voting during a pandemic

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — This year, voters in Missouri will be able to vote by mail without an excuse.

Here’s how that works: Missouri law says a person can request absentee voting if they are ill, disabled, traveling during an election, or for religious reasons.

Lawmakers passed a bill last week that expands the list of why someone could vote absentee, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the list also includes if someone tested positive for the virus, is at high risk, is 65 years old, lives in a long-term care facility, is immunocompromised, or have lung, heart, liver or kidney disease.

Everyone else who doesn’t fall under any of those categories can also do mail-in voting. However, those no excuse ballots have to be notarized.

This new rule would apply to the June 2 municipal elections, the Aug. 4 primaries, and the Nov. 3 General Election. It expires at the end of this year.

It took Missouri some time to get this bill through. Most of the other states have made some changes to their mail-in voting, except Connecticut, Mississippi, Tennesse, and Texas.

There was even a lawsuit in Missouri, pushing for more relaxed rules. One of the groups pushing for these changes was the League of Women Voters.

In this Ozarks Tonight, Jenifer Abreu talks to Jessica Balisle, a member of the League.

The League has said a shelter in place, and the pandemic is a valid reason for absentee voting for everyone. And while this legislation passing is good, Balisle says it’s not good enough. The bill still requires those no excuse ballots to be notarized. The League has asked to eliminate that requirement because it puts the health of the voter and the notary at risk, and adds a barrier to voting.

“First of all, they have to find a notary, a lot of people don’t have transportation o get there,” she said. “Finding one and getting there is a huge deterrent for a lot of voters.”

Governor Parson signed legislation in April, allowing notaries to conduct business over video chat and sign documents virtually. But Balisle says that’s still a barrier for voters who might not have access to the internet or know how to use video call technology.

Another big concern with the absentee voting expansion is the possibility of voter fraud. Balisle says she is not worried about that. She says those opposing the relaxations are using the concern of voter fraud “as an excuse” to keep more people from voting.

“We are in unprecedented times, and voting shouldn’t be one of those things that you have to compromise because you want o stay safe and healthy,” she said.

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