Missouri's Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule on a motion regarding whether Missouri residents can mail in their ballots using services such as FedEx or dropping it off in person at their local Election Authority.
American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert held a press briefing Friday in which he said he had expected a ruling from the court, which had not been released at the time of this writing.
The judge in the case Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft ruled that mail-in ballots could be returned in the same manner allowed absentee ballots: either in-person to local election authorities or by private party mailing services and third parties, like a family member.
Local election authorities did not appeal, but Secretary of State John "Jay" Ashcroft did, and he was granted a temporary stay (meaning the ruling would not take effect).
Rothert hypothesized that right now, a voter who went to their local election authority to get their mail-in ballot notarized would have to leave that office and then mail the ballot to the very office they just left.
“We don't think that makes much sense,” he said. "So our hope is that the Secretary of State resolves this situation by just dismissing his appeal, and that would resolve it instantly. But for now he's persisting, asking the circuit court for a stay. So we are waiting to hear from that court.”
Rothert says he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that no local election officials appealed the ruling that would allow the various delivery methods of all mail-in ballots, not just absentee. He believes it would simplify their job by erasing the need to determine whether each ballot is an absentee or mail-in — which, unlike the absentee ballot, requires a notary.
“Just like everywhere else in the country where mail-in voting is being tried, it's very popular in Missouri," Rothert said. "This is a way to reduce fraud and make the election accessible to all voters. Once a state has adopted the pilot program for mail-in voting, no state has ever gone backwards to again requiring someone to have an excuse to vote by absentee ballot or vote by mail. Missouri really is an outlier in [requiring voters with] absentee ballots to provide an excuse, and it’s also an outlier in requiring a notary.”
He added: “Both of those things make it harder for people to vote.”
The ACLU of Missouri will be participating in several efforts this year to ensure voters’ access to the polls. Those include poll observing, a voter hotline and lawyers prepared to resolve issues on Election Day or afterward.
“Some of the problems that are perennial are long lines in certain polling places caused by equipment that doesn't work, lack of supplies or a judge perhaps not showing up," Rothert said. "And those delays, I think, they are even more concerning when we have COVID around us. It's going to be really important to get people in and out of polling places as quickly as possible if they're voting in person.”