Missouri's Satellite Voting Sites Present Barriers For Curbside Voters With Disabilities
Some voting rights advocates say St. Louis-area election authorities aren’t doing enough to accommodate absentee voters with physical disabilities.
St. Louis-area election officials have opened satellite voting sites to help thousands of absentee voters cast ballots before Nov. 3, Election Day, but some voting rights advocates say that county election authorities aren’t doing enough to accommodate voters with physical disabilities.
On Election Day, voters who are unable to stand in line are permitted by Missouri law to vote curbside at polling sites. But that same right isn’t afforded voters at these satellite locations, according to a spokesperson with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
Representatives from the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, Missouri League of Women Voters and Missouri Protection and Advocacy Organization said they’ve all heard from voters who have been turned away from satellite voting sites for asking to cast a ballot curbside.
“It is very, very frustrating for a voter to think they were going to vote, to have a plan and then find out ‘Oh, that's not going to work,’ and then try to rejigger how they can safely vote,” said Jean Dugan, executive director of the Missouri League of Women Voters.
St. Louis and St. Louis County have each opened four satellite voting locations. Jefferson County has opened two. This is the first time that any of the counties have provided satellite voting sites for people to cast absentee ballots in person ahead of Election Day.
Because voters can only cast absentee ballots at the satellite locations, those offices are not held to the same legal requirements to provide curbside voting as Election Day polling sites are, said Democratic Director of St. Louis County Elections Eric Fey.
Satellite sites were not designed to accommodate curbside voting, presenting logistics issues, Fey said.
“Curbside voting is very labor intensive and takes up a lot of real estate,” Fey said, adding that most of his satellite sites have limited parking spaces.
For a curbside ballot to be cast, a bipartisan team of election workers must bring a ballot outside and assist the voter with filling it out, if needed.
County board of election headquarters are the only places where voters can cast absentee ballots curbside before Election Day. In St. Louis County, voters who want to cast ballots curbside must travel to the board of election at Northwest Plaza in St. Ann.
Requiring voters to travel to the county board of election to cast an absentee ballot curbside is discriminatory and could violate other disability civil rights laws, said Susan Eckles, managing attorney for the Missouri Protection and Advocacy Organization.
“Voters without disabilities are not required to only go to St. Ann,” Eckles said. “They can vote at other locations.”
Around 200 St. Louis County voters per day have cast absentee ballots curbside at the St. Ann headquarters since last Thursday, said Republican Director of St. Louis County Elections Rick Stream.
Those same St. Louis County satellite sites that Fey said present logistical puzzles are required to offer curbside voting on Nov. 3. All are Election Day polling sites.
St. Louis County is offering to bring ballots to people in the hospital or who are confined at home due to the coronavirus. To request a bipartisan team to deliver a ballot, call Rick Stream at 314-615-1955.
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