Dear Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft,
As secretary of state, you have a responsibility to make voting in the great state of Missouri as fair and accessible as possible for all voters. You have a responsibility to enable our citizens maintain their right to vote without needing to risk their lives. Your comments in recent weeks have troubled me that you do not plan to take every action to ensure that happens.
There are many ways to keep everyone’s health in mind while protecting the sanctity of our election process: expansion of absentee voting by mail, including adoption of no-excuse absentee voting; elimination of the notary requirement for absentee ballots; and multiple options for request and return of absentee ballots. At minimum, absentee voting currently allowed due to incapacity or illness should explicitly include those practicing social distancing or self-quarantine as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Several local elections authorities have appealed to you that someone can vote absentee if "prevented from going to the polls to vote on election day due to: ... incapacity or confinement due to illness or physical disability, including a person who is primarily responsible for the physical care of a person who is incapacitated or confined due to illness of disability." Existing law provides a path to do what is needed under our current circumstances, and I wish you would heed the words of those authorities who simply want to ensure people can cast their votes safely.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and other health officials have stated that during the fall we are likely to have another outbreak of COVID-19. I recognize the logistical implications such a transition might have, which is why I’m urging you to begin work on preparing for such a contingency to ensure that all precincts and election authorities across the state have access mail-in ballots or have the ability to vote absentee.
Feasibility should also not be an issue. We have a little over six months to organize these efforts at the statewide level. You currently sit on a $9 million slush fund to fund such an effort, so I do not foresee voting by mail to be a financial issue.
If we seriously want to put the health of Missourians first, which is the whole reason Gov. Mike Parson established the Stay at Home order, then the solution is simple: we need to get creative in how we expand the voter’s access to social distancing-compliant voting.
Rasheen Aldridge (D-St. Louis) is state representative for Missouri’s 78th House District.