Local election officials see large increase in ballot requests

By Mike Genet
Jackson County election officials estimate they have received more than double the requests for absentee and mail-in ballots for the November election than they have for the last two major elections.

Absentee voting for the November presidential election will no doubt be greater in Missouri and across most of the country than just about any election. And in Missouri, mail-in balloting is permitted this year because of the pandemic.

Absentee voting begins Tuesday in Missouri and continues in-person until the day before the election, though by state law election officials cannot begin to assess absentee and mail-in ballots until five days before the election, and they cannot actually count them until election day. 

Even with the giant influx, local election officials still aim to have all absentee and mail-in votes counted by the time polls close Nov. 3, though they have seen a large increase in the number of ballots requested.

“It’s too soon to tell if it’s something to worry about; it just depends on what the final number is,” said Corey Dillon, one of the co-directors for the Jackson County Elections Board, which covers the county outside of Kansas City.

“But our intention is to do what everybody wants – and what we want – to have them all counted by that day.” 

When an absentee ballot comes in, election officials can reference the voter database and mark a ballot as received, Dillon explained, but they can go no further.

“We keep track of what has gone out and what has come in,” she said.

Five days before the election, officials are allowed – in bipartisan legal teams – to determine if the ballots are appropriately notarized and signed, but they can’t open and count them.

“We were a little concerned with August, that we didn’t do the assessment until election day,” Dillon said of the primary election, “but we had enough teams that we got done by noon.”

While voters have been able to apply for absentee and mail-in ballots already, requested ballots cannot be mailed to voters before next Tuesday. Voters don’t need to submit a reason for receiving a mail-in ballot, but those must be notarized and returned by mail. Absentee ballots require a reason, can be completed in-person at the election office and can be dropped off at the office in addition to regular mail, and they require a notary unless the absentee vote is for medical reasons. 

While all absentee and mail-in requests have not been entered into the Elections Board system, Dillon said she estimates they have received about 7,500 to 10,000 requests. Even with the additional mail-in option this year, it still represents a great increase.

In the 2018 midterm November election, the Jackson County Elections Board received 2,581 absentee requests. In the 2016 presidential election, that number was 3,874. For the two presidential elections before that: 3,621 in 2012 and 4,541 in 2008.

“At this point, seven weeks before the election, it’s twice the number we’ve had before,” Dillon said.

Even so, election officials believe they can handle the load.

“We always have extra help on election day,” Dillon said. “We plan to have enough to handle that processing and counting, so we can report that at 7 p.m., or 7:01.

“I think we’re in good shape now.”

Guidelines vary greatly from state to state on when officials can begin to process and count absentee/mail-in ballots. Some allow ballots to be processed upon receipt, but then not counted until election day, or even after polls close on that day. Some can count ballots ahead of time – just not release any results. Some, like Missouri, can begin processing ballots a certain time ahead of election day, while others can only process ballots on election day. 

In Maryland, such ballots can only be processed after the election, and then counted no sooner than Wednesday morning after election day.

Voting absentee in-person will be done at the Election Board’s absentee office, 110 N. Liberty St. on the Independence Square, just a block from the Election Board’s main office. Absentee ballots can be mailed back to the Election Board (Jackson County Election Board, P.O. Box 296, Independence, MO 64051) or returned in person at the main office (215 N. Liberty St.).

• Registration: The deadline to register to vote in the November election is Oct. 7. Citizens already registered must re-register if they have moved to a different voting jurisdiction – that is, to a different county or from Kansas City to elsewhere in Jackson County or vice versa.