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Missouri Supreme Court Reinstates Lawsuit Challenging State's Absentee Voting Law Because Of Coronavirus

Election 2020 Voting Virus Outbreak
Charlie Riedel
A woman votes in the presidential primary election at the the Summit View Church of the Nazarene Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo, in this file photo.

The challengers contend that no one should be forced to risk their health and leave their homes to vote in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday kept alive a lawsuit that seeks to allow any voter to use an absentee ballot because of the pandemic.

The court sent the case back to the Cole County judge who dismissed it, finding that the challengers, including the NAACP and League of Women Voters, had a right to challenge the constitutionality of the state's voting law.

The groups sued over Missouri’s law that permits absentee voting only if voters provide an excuse for why they can’t vote in person. And those voters need to get their absentee ballots notarized in person before they can return them by mail.

The challengers contend that no one should be forced to risk their health and leave their homes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill on June 4 allowing voters with health conditions that put them at risk of getting COVID-19 to cast an absentee ballot without notarization. But the lawsuit says the bill doesn’t go far enough and that no voter should have to risk his or her health in order to vote.

Last month, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem threw the lawsuit out, ruling that the petitioners were asking for a “radical and permanent transformation of Missouri voting practices without the authorization of the Legislature.”

In ordering Beetem to reinstate the lawsuit, the Supreme Court said that the civil rights groups presented “a real, substantial, and presently existing controversy regarding the interpretation of Missouri’s absentee voting statute.”

“The petitioners seek to protect their right to vote guaranteed by the Missouri Constitution, and, given the upcoming August and November elections, their claims are ripe for judicial determination,” the court, in a nine-page opinion not attributable to any judge, wrote.

The ruling does not mean that the petitioners will ultimately prevail, merely that Beetem needs to address the issues.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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