Against the objections of Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, state lawmakers voted to expand voting-by-mail options during the COVID-19 pandemic last Friday.
However, the overall bill included Senate Bill 631, which removed language that revived part of the state’s controversial voter ID law, which was gutted in a 5-2 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court back in January - and returned Missouri to pre-2016 voting guidelines.
Ashcroft expressed his frustration over the passage over the bill, saying it defied the wishes of voters.
The voter ID law passed with 63 percent of the vote in 2016.
“Over the past few months, I have been working with county clerks and legislators to create bi-partisan legislation that would enable Missourians to vote safely and securely in view of COVID-19 concerns," he said. I supported HCS for SB 552, because it allowed marginal expansion of absentee voting with safeguards of notarized ballots and a sunset clause. The bill also provided for a photo ID requirement, which Missourians overwhelmingly approved in 2016.
“(Last Friday), it is my understanding that legislators, in conference, stripped the safeguards and voter ID from SB 631. Without the agreed upon safeguards, I have grave concerns that this bill will make voting less secure and jeopardize the integrity of our elections. No bill at all is better than passing bad legislation with permanent consequences.”
Locally, Lincoln County Clerk Crystal Hall said, while the legislation is far from perfect, the overall purpose is the safety of voters and poll workers.
"The Executive Committee for the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities worked hard to ensure that the voters of Missouri can safely, securely and accessibly cast a ballot in the remaining elections of 2020," Hall said. "The bill that passed wasn’t exactly what we had asked for, but it does allow for some concessions concerning safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As the lead election authority for Lincoln County, I am committed to conduct fair and accurate elections while keeping residents and poll workers safe."
Members of the community also weighed in on the legislation, and shared Ashcroft's concerns.
"I definitely agree with Ashcroft on this one. We need all the safeguards we can get to insure voting is done truthfully," Kelly Edinger of Troy said. "It’s a sad time we live in that these safeguards need to be in place, but that’s how it is now, so it raises eyebrows that the verbiage would be 'left out' to begin with."
"I agree with Jay Ashcroft. Election integrity go hand in hand with paper ballots and voter ID requirements," said Alex Salsman of Troy. "I hope Governor (Mike) Parson agrees and vetoes this bill."
Under current state law, voter can only mail their ballots for specific reasons, such as illness or travel away from home on Election Day.
A coalition of voting rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the League of Women Voters, also are pursuing legal action, arguing in Cole County court that people sheltering in place to avoid the spread of the virus should be able to use the illness excuse to vote by mail, and that "voter fraud" is a "myth" used to throw up unnecessary barriers, and suppress voters.