With Missouri’s primary elections fast-approaching, absentee voting has become a hot-button issue. Elected officials are debating whether the current coronavirus pandemic makes voters eligible to request absentee ballots, and a recent lawsuit filed against the state has asked the courts to compel the state’s leaders to make them accessible to anyone concerned about leaving their homes on election day.
These calls to allow more broadly available absentee voting are well-founded, and our state’s leaders would be smart to listen. The outbreak of the coronavirus is an unprecedented challenge to our public life, and requiring voters to go outside and put themselves at risk simply to fill out a ballot would be a dangerous move. Voters deserve to fill out their ballots safely, and absentee voting is the right solution.
Requiring voters to appear in-person to vote would be especially dangerous for Missouri’s older voters. While much is still unknown about the coronavirus, data continues to show that older Americans are at a higher risk of being in serious danger if they contract the virus, especially if they have other underlying health conditions. Older voters are some of the most active voters, which means huge percentages of people who go to vote in-person could be at risk if absentee ballots are not provided as an option for older voters.
Gov. Mike Parson needs to do what is in the best interest of Missourians’ safety and allow voters who do not want to risk contact with infected individuals to request mail-in ballots. Absentee voting will only be effective if it is easily available, and it is in the state’s best interest to make that happen.
Other states across the U.S., recognizing this risk, have done exactly that. In recent weeks, we’ve seen more states opt to provide absentee ballot requests to all active registered voters, with some also extending the deadlines for people to fill in their ballots to ensure that logistical issues don’t lead to votes not being counted.
On the contrary, as we saw during the Wisconsin primary election, a lack of access to absentee ballots can lead to the coronavirus spreading further. Since the state Supreme Court election that took place earlier this month in Wisconsin, 40 new coronavirus cases have been connected to election activities just in Milwaukee County.
For the sake of Missourians everywhere, our state must look at what others are doing and work to follow suit. Organizations nationwide, such as AARP, are currently working to educate legislators and voters alike about the importance of making absentee voting a readily available choice. It is the safest choice for older voters and other groups that are high-risk for contracting the coronavirus.
Missouri should do everything necessary to protect older voters. It would show a dedication to keeping our state safe and healthy while providing an avenue for our elections to be held in a safe, efficient, and effective manner. Our elected officials have made it clear that keeping Missourians safe is the top priority, and allowing for easier access to absentee ballots would be an excellent step toward achieving this goal.
Missouri voters have the right not just to fill out their ballots, but to do so safely and without fearing for their health. Our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle, many of whom understand this issue, should look to make absentee voting an option available to all on election day. These are unprecedented times, and we need our leadership to adapt accordingly. Otherwise, thousands across the state could needlessly come into contact with the virus and make the outbreak in Missouri even worse.
Karan Pujji is a St. Louis businessman working in the healthcare field and a candidate for state representative.