The Missouri Supreme Court heard remote oral arguments on Tuesday afternoon in an appeal that aims to remove a notary requirement for mail-in voting for the November general election.
In April, the Missouri NAACP, the League of Women Voters and three registered voters sued the state, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) and others, arguing that the steps to vote by mail during a pandemic are unconstitutional.
The Missouri NAACP and its ACLU attorneys say Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem erroneously upheld the notarization requirement, and they also express concern about a scarcity of notaries.
Missouri Solicitor General D. John Sauer disagrees with that. Counselor Sauer argued on behalf of the state and Secretary Ashcroft.
“The trial court (Cole County circuit court) pointed out that there are, even on plaintiff’s calculation, there are 44,000 notaries in the state of Missouri available to notarize absentee ballots. And there are hundreds of notaries in the secretary of state’s volunteer program,” Sauer tells the court.
He says invalidating the notary requirement is not realistic because voting by mail began on September 22. He says changing the rules midway through the process would subject Missouri voters to different legal requirements during the same election cycle.
Sauer also says invalidating the notary requirement would require reprinting of absentee and mail-in ballot envelopes across Missouri.
The ACLU disagrees with Sauer. They also say that the Cole County circuit court committed multiple errors and erroneously upheld a notarization requirement that imposes burdens on Missourians who are seeking to vote during a global pandemic.
ACLU Foundation attorney Sophia Lin Lakin argued the case on Tuesday.
“No voters will be subjected to different standards here. All voters would exercise their fundamental right under the same standard: having their ballots counted regardless of notarization,” Lin Lakin tells the court.
Some physicians and epidemiologists have filed as friends of the court. They say requiring voters to have absentee ballots notarized present unavoidable increased risks of transmitting the virus that causes COVID.
The ACLU also says Judge Beetem has misapplied a federal case that’s never been applied in Missouri.
There is no word on when the Missouri Supreme Court will rule. One of the questions the Supreme Court is considering is whether the Cole County circuit court failed to consider evidence of burdens associated with requiring ballots to be notarized.
Missouri lawmakers approved the legislation on the final day of session in May. House Democrats were successful in having a photo ID provision removed, in a compromise with Republicans. The legislation from State Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, has two but separate options.
The first expands absentee voting to those 65 and older, or who are vulnerable to COVID-19, such as elderly residents. Notarization is not required for those 65 and older or who are vulnerable.
The second option expands voting by mail for everyone, but requires notarization.
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