On June 4th, Governor Parson signed into law Senate Bill 631. This legislation added a new reason for absentee voting and an entirely new voting option called a “mail-in ballot.” These two new options for voters are exclusive to the August 4 Primary and November 3 General elections.
Voters who are considered “high-risk” for contracting COVID-19 qualify to vote absentee via option 7 – the new reason included in SB 631 for 2020 elections. People are “high-risk” if they are 65 years or older, in a long-term care facility, have chronic lung, liver, or kidney disease or are undergoing dialysis, have moderate to severe asthma, have a serious heart condition, are immunocompromised, or have diabetes.
Voters also can qualify to vote absentee for option 2 – due to incapacity or because confined due to illness or caring for a person who is incapacitated or confined due to illness. Voters who qualify to vote absentee because of option 2 or the new COVID-19 option 7 do not require a notary for their absentee ballot to be valid.
People who vote absentee for all other reasons – absence on election day, religious belief, employment as an election authority, incarceration, or participation in the address confidentiality program – require a notary. Absentee ballots may be requested by mail, email, fax, or in-person, and may be returned by mail or in-person.
The other new option included in SB 631 is the mail-in ballot. This option does not require any reason or excuse, and any registered voter may request one. However, all mail-in ballots must be notarized. They can only be requested by mail or in-person, and must be returned only through the mail.
Beginning 42 days before each election, in-person absentee voting is available. There will also be four additional in-person satellite locations beginning on July 23. Locations and hours for these locations can be found on our website, www.stlouisco.com/elections.
Because of the increasing spread of COVID-19, strict precautions in place by state and local officials, and the difficulty to recruit and train poll workers, polling places in St. Louis County will be reduced. All voters will be sent a “notice of election” postcard that includes their assigned location (if it has changed it will be highlighted). For the polling places that will be open, workers will wear masks and gloves and will be sanitizing their locations throughout the day. Voters will be instructed to practice social distancing as much as feasibly possible.
It’s important that voters consider all of their voting options and prepare an election plan to keep themselves and everyone around them safe. Our staff is working hard to implement these new changes while providing voters with the best assistance possible so everyone can safely exercise their right to vote.
The absentee/mail-in ballot application can be found on our website, www.stlouisco.com/elections.
For the August 4 Primary, all absentee applications for St. Louis County must be received in our office no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22. For the November 3 General, this deadline is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 21.
Eric Fey is Democratic director of Elections for the St. Louis County Election Board.