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Missouri High Court Upholds Notarization Requirement For Absentee And Mail-In Ballots

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

The plaintiffs contended that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Missouri voters should be allowed to vote by mail without having their signatures notarized.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Friday rejected a challenge to Missouri’s law requiring absentee and mail-in ballots to be notarized.

The NAACP, the League of Women Voters and two individuals had sued over a law allowing only voters who expect to be confined due to illness or disability to cast an absentee or mail-in ballot without notarization.

They contended that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Missouri voters should be allowed to vote by mail without having their signatures notarized.

But the court, in a decision joined by four judges, ruled that people who are not ill or disabled must get their absentee ballots notarized.

In upholding a lower court’s ruling dismissing the plaintiffs' challenge, it ruled that while the Missouri Constitution establishes that the right to vote is fundamental, there is no constitutional right to absentee or mail-in voting.

The Missouri Legislature this year expanded voting options due to the pandemic, including authorizing all Missouri voters to cast mail-in ballots even if they are not eligible to cast absentee ballots. But the law also says that absentee and mail-in ballot envelopes must be notarized for all voters except those who have contracted or are in an at-risk category of contracting COVID-19.

The at-risk category includes people 65 years or older; people living in long-term care facilities; people with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma; people with serious heart conditions; people who are immunocompromised; people with diabetes; people with chronic kidney disease who are undergoing dialysis; and people with liver disease.

The NAACP and other plaintiffs urged the court to rule that the statute contemplates not just people who are ill or disabled but those who expect to be confined because they want to avoid contracting or spreading the illness.

But the court said that the ordinary, everyday meaning of the phrase “confinement due to illness” plainly refers to people “who are currently ill.”

“This does not include an individual who expects to be confined to avoid the risk of contracting or spreading a pathogen,” it said.

Judge Laura Denvir Stith dissented in part, saying she believed the plain language of the statute does apply to those who wish to vote absentee because they expect to stay home on election day due to the pandemic.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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