Missouri is an excuse-only absentee voting state, meaning that voters are only able to vote at a place or time other than their polling location on Election Day are ones that attest that they cannot vote in person for one of a limited number of reasons.
In June 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Missouri altered this law for its August and November 2020 elections only. The state expanded absentee voting to people who have COVID-19, are 65 or older, or who have an underlying condition that puts them at greater risk if they were to contract COVID-19.
Missouri also created a new category of remote voting, which it termed “mail-in voting,” which is open to every voter in the state. However, to cast a mail-in ballot a voter has less options for how they may request the ballot than do people requesting absentee ballots; they also need to get mail-in ballots notarized, return them by mail (whereas absentee ballots can be returned by mail or in person), and have their ballots received by their local election authority (“LEA”) before polls close on Election Day.
This means that even when a voter goes to the LEA to have their mail ballot notarized, they must leave the LEA, go to a mailbox, send the ballot, and hope that it is returned to their LEA before polls close.
Further, minor errors or omissions on ballot envelopes in Missouri have resulted in voters’ ballots being rejected. Missouri voters are guaranteed no process to be notified of these problems or cure errors or omissions on their ballot envelopes. And, in those instances when voters are provided the opportunity to cure mistakes on their ballot envelopes, they are required to appear in-person to correct these errors.
In a complaint filed on September 17, 2020 in the Western District of Missouri, Plaintiffs (Organization for Black Struggle, the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City Chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Missouri Faith Voices, and the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis) allege that these hurdles to casting a ballot and having it counted violate Missourians’ equal protection and procedural due process rights, and violate the Civil Rights Act. They are asking the Court to provide relief to Missouri voters prior to the November 2020 general election.
On October 9, 2020, an order issued by the Western District of Missouri provided Plaintiffs with relief on one of their claims. The Court ruled that it violated basic guarantees of equal protection to restrict the methods for returning ballots for Missouri’s mail-in voters, as compared to absentee voters and ordered that all Missourians casting remote ballots to be allowed to return those ballots by mail or in person.
Organization for Black Struggle, Greater Kansas City Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, St. Louis Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis Section, and Missouri Faith Voices
ACLU Missouri, Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law