Voting records set in 2016 have already been broken in Jasper and Newton counties. And with a week left before Election Day, county clerks anticipate those numbers going higher.
Though Missouri does not have early voting, the Legislature earlier this year expanded the eligibility for absentee voting. That has enabled almost 10,000 voters in the two counties to either cast an in-person or mail-in absentee vote, according to numbers reported by election officials.
"We'll have surges in the early morning, lunchtime and after work," Jasper County Clerk Charlie Davis said. "The longest anyone has had to wait has been about an hour."
As of Tuesday afternoon:
• Jasper County had received about 4,500 in-person absentee ballots and about 3,200 mail-in ballots. In 2016, the county reported a total of 4,187 absentee ballots — both in-person and by mail.
• Newton County had received 2,764 in-person absentee ballots and about 1,600 mail-in ballots. The county reported 2,432 total absentee votes during the last presidential election.
Newton County Clerk Tami Owens said her office has also had regular lines, which are sometimes slowed by curbside voting services offered to COVID-19 patients or others who cannot physically walk up to the office. The voter turnout has already surpassed what the county would report during municipal elections, and is on track to be significant.
"We're already at 12%, so we've already voted enough here through the office to overcome a municipal election," Owens said. "I think we'll get around 75% to 80%."
Davis projected his turnout at 60%. Both clerks say that people taking advantage of expanded absentee votes should help manage expected crowds on Nov. 3.
Trends in Jasper and Newton counties match the rest of the country. According to Associated Press elections research, more than 21 million voters across the U.S. have taken advantage of early in-person voting.
Missouri expanded absentee options for voters at higher risk of being severely sickened by the virus, and all Missouri voters can vote by mail if they get their ballots notarized.
Advocates tried to put a six-week early voting proposal on the state ballot in 2014, but they couldn't get enough petition signatures. Republican lawmakers pitched an alternative that would have allowed advance voting for six business days, but voters rejected it.
There's now some bipartisan support to make it easier to cast ballots early in Missouri, at least in future elections.
Republican Rep. Peggy McGaugh, of Carrollton, who served as a local elections official before joining the Legislature, is pushing for no-excuse absentee voting. She hopes the temporary mail-in voting law in effect this year because of the coronavirus will help her bill gain traction.
“I hope in the end that the legislators find that it was a success,” she said.
According to information from the Missouri secretary of state's office, residents are eligible to vote absentee with a notary because of religious beliefs, working as an election worker or planned absence from their jurisdiction. In cases of incapacity, illness or risk of contracting COVID-19, a notary is not required.
Notaries are available to walk-in voters in the two counties for an experience that is similar to early voting. Davis said his office has not yet rejected a ballot request.
The expanded absentee votes are hoped to make Election Day more manageable, Davis said. He complimented his staff for its hard work leading up to voting so far and in preparing for the election to come.
"I expect what the Legislature did with expanded in-person voting will pay off," Davis said. "I think we'll be fine on Election Day. We'll have a total record election, but because there's a large turnout for absentee votes, it will be easier to manage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.