Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetum is considering a lawsuit designed to let all Missouri voters cast a ballot by mail this year without a notarized signature. The NAACP of Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri are suing the state and contend that a new law requiring some voters to get a notary could put their health and the health of others at risk during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Beetum dismissed the case in May and said the groups did not state a claim. He went on to say they are trying to get widespread absentee voting for all future elections. The case was then appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court and the high court reversed Beetum’s decision. It said the groups actually stated a claim.
Plaintiffs want the court to block the notarization requirement in Senate Bill 631. Under the plan, all registered Missouri voters can mail in their ballot this year, if requested, and the ballot envelope must be notarized.
Absentee voters can cast a ballot without a notary if:
- Incapacitated or confined due to illness
- Having contracted the coronavirus or at-risk due to the following:
*Age 65 or older
*Living in a long term care facility
*Chronic lung disease/asthma
*Serious heart condition
*Liver disease *Chronic kidney disease and undergoing dialysis
All other absentee voters will be required to get a notary.
The governor has signed an executive order allowing electronic notarization.
The key witness for the plaintiffs, Dr. Hilary Babcock, a medical professor from Washington University in St. Louis, says the safest way to vote is not to leave home and instead vote by mail. But she says getting ballots authorized through a notary is safer than voting in person. If voters use public transportation to get to the polls, Babcock says those voters increase the chances of getting the virus.
Arguing for the state, Missouri Solicitor General D. John Sauer, raised the point that some notaries already have a porch or window-separated notary option. He also questioned Babcock about using safety measures while voting in person. Babcock says using social distance, frequent hand washing and wearing masks could help to minimize the risks of getting the virus. But she says they are not as safe as staying confined.
Today’s court hearing came with some technical glitches, causing the hearing to last more than three hours. Plaintiffs used a video conference platform to dial into the hearing. Understanding what they were sometimes saying did not always come easy. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office represented the state in-person.
Beetum could rule on the case at any time. Missouri’s primary election is on August 4.
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