A number of voting rights groups have leveled lawsuits against Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and local election authorities over the state’s remote voting policies.
One particular suit was filed last week by a coalition made up of the Missouri Faith Voices, National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis Section, Organization for Black Struggle, and St. Louis and Kansas City chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. The suit alleged Missouri “unlawfully burdened its remote voting process” and certain conditions presented unfair restrictions to voters.
“Our communities are struggling to access democracy due to negligence of those responsible for ensuring all voters have uninhibited access to the ballot box,” Missouri Faith Voices Executive Director Rev. Cassandra Gould said. “For Missouri Faith Voices these are moral issues. We will continue to work to ensure that democracy is not impaired, but we also believe that elected officials have a moral responsibility to all of the residents of Missouri and we will work tirelessly to hold them accountable.”
A spokeswoman for Ashcroft told The Missouri Times the office does not comment on ongoing litigation but she “expects a successful day in November.”
The suit pointed to three areas of “unlawful remote voting practices” and seeks an order to remedy those perceived violations from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The groups are represented in court by a number of voter rights organizations, including the Missouri ACLU and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition.
The suit alleged individuals opting for mail-in voting can go through the full process through the U.S. Postal Service or email while absentee ballots can be requested by mail or digitally yet must be returned in person. The suit argued the limitations of the mail system can lead to delays which could cause ballots arriving after the deadline not to be counted.
The group also took issue with the rejection policy for ballots with errors unrelated to voter eligibility — such as failing to check certain boxes or identifying whether a ballot is an absentee or mail-in version on the envelope.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleged Missouri law does not require election officials to notify voters if their remote ballots are rejected for faults, and the law provides no opportunity to fix them. The plaintiffs estimated that tens of thousands of Missourians are at risk for rejection based on data from the August primary election.
Two other suits against the secretary of state have also been levied. One from the national American Women group seeks to ease the same restrictions and allow third parties to assist in collecting and submitting ballots. Another from the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Missouri seeks to remove the notary requirement for absentee ballots. Both suits were filed in Cole County.
“Voter suppression used to take the form of blatant poll taxes and literacy tests. Now, it takes more subtle but still nefarious forms,” Ashcroft’s Democratic challenger, Yinka Faleti, said. “Jay Ashcroft has kept Missouri decades behind many other states when it comes to the process around voting in Missouri, and this lawsuit rightfully exposes his dangerous and disingenuous practices that disenfranchise voters. All eligible Missourians should be able to exercise their constitutional and fundamental right to vote without unnecessary barriers. Jay Ashcroft is blocking the road to the vote in Missouri.”
Mail-in voting was authorized for the first time in Missouri for this year’s elections by Gov. Mike Parson in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Absentee voting was also expanded to allow high-risk individuals to opt for absentee ballots without the need to have them notarized.
The expansion of voting options has been controversial across the country during the pandemic. Thomas Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the U.S. Postal Service, sent a letter to Ashcroft and other secretaries of state earlier this year noting a possible conflict in submission deadlines and mail service times.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick also called for a special session to allow properly post-marked ballots to be counted.