'Don't delay': Clerk says voters should mail ballots a week before Election Day
If you’re a Greene County voter planning to cast a ballot by mail this fall and you keep up with the news, you may be a little alarmed right now.
News of delays and alleged sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service has been all over the place.
And late last week, stories broke about the USPS sending letters to 46 states, including Missouri, warning that some ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted even if voters request them on time and mail them back promptly.
But on Thursday afternoon, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller said you need not despair.
After a conversation with postal officials earlier in the day, Schoeller told the News-Leader he’s confident that if he receives your ballot request by the Oct. 21 deadline, you'll have to time to receive it, fill it out, mail it back and have it count.
Schoeller said his office expects to be able to process requests within 48 hours and will pay to send ballots by first-class mail, meaning that if delivery standards outlined in the USPS’s letter to election officials hold, even the slowest mail should make the 7 p.m. deadline on Nov. 3 if voters fill out and return ballots promptly.
(Story continues below)
But Schoeller also said you shouldn't risk it at all.
“There’s always the potential for random error,” he said. “People forget to sign their ballot envelopes or they get stuck in the back of a machine. And the opportunity to make up for that gets smaller the closer you get to an election.”
And with a pandemic still at large, he said, there’s a risk some Postal Service workers could get sick around the election and create delays.
How to request an absentee or mail-in ballot
So if you want to be sure your ballot counts, he said, you should request your absentee or mail-in ballot now and get it back in the mail by Tuesday, Oct. 27.
You can request absentee ballots, which offer some extra convenience over mail-in ballots, if you have an excuse defined in state law, the first six of which are as follows (pay attention to the numbers):
- You’ll be outside the county on Election Day;
- You’re incapacitated or confined "due to illness or physical disability," or you're primarily responsible for taking care of a person who is;
- Your religious belief or practice;
- You work as an election authority or as a member of an election authority, or you'll be working for an election authority at a location other than your polling place;
- You're incarcerated, provided you remain qualified to vote;
- You're a participant in the state's address confidentiality program due to safety concerns.
This year only, there's also a special seventh excuse you can use if you've contracted COVID-19 or meet at-risk criteria defined as:
- You're 65 or older;
- You live in a long-term care facility;
- You have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
- You have serious heart conditions;
- You're immunocompromised;
- You have diabetes;
- You have chronic kidney disease and you're undergoing dialysis; or
- You have liver disease.
If you qualify for multiple excuses and one of them is No. 2 or No. 7, you're going to want to pick No. 2 or No. 7 to save some time later on.
If none of those excuses describe you, you'll want to request a "mail-in" ballot.
Now, one thing before we get into requesting.
If you meet one of the absentee criteria and you want to vote early but avoid the mail entirely, you can do that.
You can vote in person from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday from Sept. 22 to Nov. 2 at 1126 Boonville Ave.
Otherwise, you can find a request form for either kind of ballot at https://www.sos.mo.gov/CMSImages/ElectionGoVoteMissouri/2020FillableBallotApplication-GeneralElection.pdf.
You can also just write up a letter to the clerk’s office with the following information:
- Your full name;
- Your residential address;
- A mailing address, if you want it sent somewhere other than your residential address;
- Your phone number and/or email address;
- Your voter registration number, if you know it;
- Your absentee excuse, if you're voting absentee; and
- Your signature.
When are the deadlines to vote by mail? When should you send it?
Once you've got the form or letter filled out, you'll need to send it in.
If you’re sending it by mail, the address is "County Clerk, 940 N. Boonville Ave., Room 113, Springfield, MO 65802."
Schoeller recommends getting that to the USPS as soon as possible.
If you do wait, however, he recommends getting it in no later than Oct. 14.
Of course, you can also speed up the process by filing your request in-person at the same address, and if you’re requesting an absentee ballot you can email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax it to 417-868-4170.
Again, all requests must be received by local election authorities by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21.
They'll begin processing requests well before that, though, and will start sending out ballots Sept. 22.
Once you receive your ballot, you'll want to fill it out and remember to sign and seal your ballot envelope.
At that point, if you're voting absentee and you chose either excuse No. 2 (you're confined due to illness) or No. 7 (you've contracted COVID-19 or you have one of those at-risk conditions), this is where that comes in handy. You're done; you can send your envelope back to the clerk’s office and move on.
Schoeller says you just need to make sure it’s in the mail by Oct. 27, the Tuesday before Election Day.
Everyone else will need to get their ballot envelopes notarized.
The clerk’s office and some banks can help with that, and the Springfield-Greene County Library is offering the service for free by appointment at the Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Ave., and the Library Station, 2535 N. Kansas Expressway.
You can make an appointment at the Library Center by calling 417-883-5341 or the Library Station at 417-616-0683.
The Secretary of State’s office has also compiled a list of organizations and individuals volunteering to provide services free of charge at https://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/MailinNotary.
Once that's done, you can put your envelope in the mail, which again, should be done by Tuesday, Oct. 27.
If and only if you're voting absentee, you can also return it to your local election authority in-person in the envelope provided. If you're using a mail-in ballot, you must mail it back.
All ballots must be received at the clerk's office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at email@example.com. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.