Legislator seeks more time to vote by mail
A Democratic state representative is calling on Gov. Mike Parson to direct legislators already in special session on crime policy to take action to shore up mail-in voting this fall.
Rep. Kip Kendrick of Columbia wrote a letter to Parson on Friday asking for his help to "ensure every Missourian's properly postmarked, but late delivered, absentee ballot" will count in November.
In his letter, Kendrick said he's worried a rise in mail-in voting driven by coronavirus fears is about to run headlong into delays at the U.S. Postal Service and lead to many ballots coming in too late to be counted.
To prevent that, Kendrick said he wants to allow local election authorities to accept any ballot with an envelope postmarked by Election Day.
“This move would go a long way to ensure that all Missouri voters, regardless of political affiliation, will have their vote counted this November,” he wrote.
Currently, Missouri's policy of only counting ballots received by local election authorities by 7 p.m. on Election Day means a small percentage of absentee ballots — they made up well under 1 percent of total votes cast in 2018 — are not counted because they come in late.
But Kendrick said in an interview he's worried that could be a bigger problem this year with many more people voting by mail due to the pandemic and issues with the Postal Service expressed most recently in letters sent to state election officials at the end of July.
In the letter to Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a USPS attorney said the state's Oct. 21 deadline for ballot requests "may be incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards,” creating a “risk that some ballots requested near the (Oct. 21) deadline … will not be returned by mail in time to be counted.”
The USPS attorney, Thomas Marshall, recommended that voters submit their requests at least 15 days before Election Day and encouraged election authorities to use first-class mail when sending voters their ballots.
Ashcroft, for his part, downplayed the concern in a statement Friday, calling it a “non-issue," noting that the deadline to request ballots is 13 days out to begin with and that absentee voters can speed up the process by emailing their ballot requests and dropping off ballots in-person.
Voters can also begin sending in requests now and local election authorities will begin sending out ballots Sept. 22.
Not everyone qualifies to vote absentee, however, and those using mail-in ballots available to everyone must still return their envelopes via U.S. mail.
Kendrick said he couldn't ignore President Donald Trump saying last week that he’s withholding aid to the Postal Service to hurt vote-by-mail efforts, which Trump has falsely linked to widespread fraud.
“It is unacceptable that election integrity is in doubt at the moment," Kendrick wrote in his letter to Parson, "and it is even more unacceptable for our state to not take proactive measures to protect the vote.”
Parson, a Republican, didn't appear inclined to take up Kendrick's request.
"At this time, Governor Parson has no plans to expand the special session any further," spokeswoman Kelli Jones wrote in an email. "His focus has been and continues to be on violent crime."