Secretary of state encourages voting

By Mike Genet

Three times during the pandemic, Jay Ashcroft says, Missourians have gone to the polls and cast ballots without many of the issues seen in other states. 

On the first possible day for in-person absentee voting in the state, Missouri’s secretary of state spent Tuesday traveling around the metro area, trying to explain the new voting processes this year and touting the safety of polling locations for the November presidential election.

From left, Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross, City Council Members Susan Culpepper and Jerry Kaylor and City Attorney Jacqueline Sommer discuss election procedures with Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, center. Ashcroft visited sites around the metro area Tuesday during the first day of absentee voting in the state.

“Voters in Missouri have shown how elections should be done,” Ashcroft said during a small outdoor gathering in Blue Springs. 

Earlier in the day, according to KSHB-TV News, Ashcroft discounted the lawsuit filed against him last week by the ACLU – claiming the state had made it more difficult for some to vote Nov. 3 – as “frivolous,” as that the state had given voters an additional option. 

Ashcroft’s office is mailing more than 2 million flyers around the state, describing the necessary steps, differences and nuances for absentee voting and mail-in voting – aiming to reach every household of registered voters.

“It’s not complicated; it’s not troublesome,” said Ashcroft, who’s in the midst of his own re-election bid against Democrat Yinka Faleti. “I just want people to learn. If you’re registered, you can vote.”

Voting in person – for absentee or on Nov. 3 – is still the best way to ensure a ballot avoids any unintended gaffe and gets counted for election day, Ashcroft said. But election officials across the state have also been planning for months, trading best ideas and getting good practice with earlier elections this year before what could be heavy turnout on Nov. 3 and unprecedented numbers of ballots submitted before that day. 

As soon as election officials receive an absentee or mailed ballot, they can reference the voter database and mark it as received, but can go no further. As soon as five days before the election, bipartisan teams can begin to process those ballots for appropriate notaries and signatures, but they can’t open and count them until election day. All mail-in ballots must be notarized, and most absentee ballots – unless voting that way for medical reasons – require a notary, as well.

“It’s been the local election authorities that have done a great job,” Ashcroft said of elections this year.

Some election jurisdictions have combined some polling locations in areas to make use of large spaces like school gymnasiums – helpful for social distancing – and Ashcroft said 21 jurisdictions have expanded locations for Nov. 3.

While legislators allowed for COVID risk groups as an eligible reason for absentee voting, and permitted mail-in ballots for the first time, Ashcroft encourages people, “Don’t let COVID scare you inappropriately.”

While he wasn’t a fan of Milwaukee crunching all its polls to four locations for an election earlier this year, Ashcroft said, there was no evidence those locations became COVID spreaders. The secretary of state added that he’s personally delivered more than 500 gallons of hand sanitizer to election offices around the state.

Tuesday was the first day election officials could send out requested absentee and mail-in ballots. Voters can still request such a ballot through Oct. 21. However, Ashcroft said he’s told election officials to encourage mailing voters to send off their ballots by that time, to better avoid getting bogged down in the Postal Service. 

Whereas normally mail can take up to six or seven days from sending to arrival, “What we’re telling voters is to leave at least two weeks to send that back in,” Ashcroft said.

The secretary said in more urban areas like Jackson, St. Louis and St. Charles counties, it’s probable not all absentee votes will get counted by the time polls close on Nov. 3, but that could mean a couple hours of waiting, not a couple days.

“They could be getting ballots from the post office at 6:59,” he said.

Ashcroft said he’s glad Missouri is not one of the states with election rules that don’t allow for absentee ballots to be counted until after polls close. Absentee (and this year, mail-in) ballots cannot actually be counted until election day, but officials can start processing them five days earlier.

“I think it’s great to be able to get results quicker,” he said. “I think that does a disservice to the people to wait.”

“We need to treat votes as important as they are.”