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Missouri Supreme Court hears arguments on mail-in voting 

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Supreme Court heard final arguments in a case over the state’s remote voting policies Tuesday afternoon. 

The suit, filed against the state and Secretary of State’s Office by the Missouri division of the NAACP, League of Women Voters, Missouri ACLU, Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, Cooley LLP, and three individuals, took issue with the notarization requirement imposed for mail-in ballots. It asked that the requirement be removed. 

“No voter would be subjected to different standards here,” ACLU attorney Sophia Lakin argued. “All voters would exercise their fundamental right under the same standard — having their ballots counted, regardless of notarization. The state’s equal protection argument seems to be that you can violate someone’s constitutional rights if you violate everyone’s constitutional rights.”

Lakin said the notarization requirement was unconstitutional in multiple ways, arguing it forced non-exempt voters to risk their health to seek notarization and alleging the process was complicated by some notaries working remotely or abnormal hours. The requirement caused unnecessary time, money, and transportation burdens for all involved, she said. 

State Solicitor General John Sauer, on behalf of Missouri and the Secretary of State’s Office, said the lower courts had not found a single case of infection resulting from the state’s voting statutes or any other evidence that would suggest the practice was unsafe.

“The secretary of state and local election authorities were able to provide Missourians with a safe voting experience during the August 2020 primary election,” Sauer said. “That safe voting experience extended to in-person notarization, and there is no reason to think that the local election authorities in the state will be unable to do that going forward.”

The court has yet to set a date for a ruling. 

The suit was initially filed in April, seeking an expansion of the state’s voting methods to accommodate social distancing guidelines. The case was dismissed and appealed prior to Gov. Mike Parson expanding voting options in May. The new law prompted the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s decision, and the suit was amended to reflect the notarization clause. 

The suit was dismissed by the Cole County Circuit Court last month but appealed to the Supreme Court. The challengers sought a decision from the Supreme Court declaring that the constitution allows voters to cast ballots without notarization. 

Mail-in voting was authorized for the first time in Missouri for the 2020 elections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new law requires ballots to be notarized in order to count. Absentee voting was also expanded to allow high-risk individuals to opt for absentee ballots without the need to have them notarized. 

Other lawsuits have been filed against the Secretary of State’s Office over voting options, including a recent challenge from a coalition of St. Louis and Kansas City-based advocacy groups. That suit, filed in the U.S. Western District Court of Appeals, criticized the remote voting methods’ requirements and ballot rejection practices. 

Another suit from the Washington, D.C.-based American Women group, filed in Cole County, seeks to allow third parties to participate in ballot submission and collection. 

Both cases are pending.

This story has been updated. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.