No one should have to choose between protecting their health or exercising their fundamental right to vote. But that’s a risk this year. Missouri can either do what’s necessary to hold secure and fair elections during this pandemic, or it can experience the disastrous and unsafe voting already seen in primaries around the country. While Missouri has held its primary elections, it will still conduct local elections in June and, of course, the national election in November. Election officials should learn from — and avoid — the mistakes of other states.


Officials around the nation are grappling with how best to hold elections during this unprecedented time, and members of both parties in Missouri are no exception. But their work is cut out for them.


Every state has some form of absentee voting by mail. Thirty-three states require no excuse for eligible voters to request an absentee ballot, and seventeen, including Missouri, require an excuse, such as illness or being out of town. In the face of the virus, a host of states have acted to temporarily waive excuse requirements for absentee voting. Missouri must join them.


Across our state, Republican and Democratic county clerks, and bipartisan Election Boards responsible for administering our elections, have called for this change. And, House Speaker Elijah Haahr, a Republican from Springfield, has backed this idea. These officials know such a common-sense measure should not be controversial. (It's also important to note that such changes need not be permanent, as former RNC chair Michael Steele has pointed out.) Election officials also called for a variety of systems to be set up, including safe ballot drop boxes and special voting centers that allow for safe, socially distant in-person voting.


It’s important for an array of options to be available to avoid election chaos. People will only have faith in the outcome of the election if they believe the process is fair and secure. That’s why having multiple methods is so important. Vote-by-mail, while supported by 70% of Americans, is not the only tool states must consider, and it’s critical that measures be taken for safe in-person voting as well.


Governors, secretaries of state, and local elected officials around the country — in politically diverse places such as Kentucky, New Hampshire, Maryland, Indiana, and West Virginia — are hard at work on solutions to prevent an election disaster in November. And every day, officials in additional states join them.


Preparing for the November general election now is the key to success. Missouri officials are ready to take a step toward that success in the local elections set for June 2 as Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft suggests. The coronavirus is expected to see a resurgence in the Fall, and as widespread fears about voting in-person remain, two-thirds of Americans feel this will not be a normal election. State officials need to work overtime to ensure public confidence in our democratic process. The last thing we need is for a close national election that people think wasn’t fair in one way or another.


Implementing changes will not be easy. Even states with widespread absentee participation are already seeing their resources strained to keep up with the spike in demand. Missouri will not be an exception. That’s why states need more resources to run safe and secure elections. Congress made an important initial down payment of $400 million in March to support states. But this is just a fraction of what will ultimately be needed to be ready. One non-partisan analysis estimates that Missouri alone needs approximately $59.4-$67 million, and the vast majority of these costs are the responsibility of election officials at the local level. We support bringing more federal resources to Missouri to relieve the additional costs that will be incurred.


It’s encouraging that Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has added his voice to those calling for states to get the money they need to prepare. Blunt, a former Missouri secretary of state, as well as a county clerk and election official, knows better than most what it takes to administer elections. He’s also right to point out that such assistance does not mean the federal government should take over elections, but rather give states the tools they need to decide what’s best.


Missourians look forward to further leadership on this issue from Senator Blunt and other officials. Keeping our democracy with its free and fair elections, as well as its voters safe and healthy, will require everyone to work together. There is much to be done in the months ahead.


Russ Carnahan is a former Democratic member of Congress from Missouri and Principal at Carnahan Global Consulting.Tom Coleman is a former Republican member of Congress from Missouri and has served as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and at American University. Both are members of Issue One's ReFormers Caucus.