Mail-in voting is not being used much so far by voters in most Southwest Missouri counties.
The reason, county clerks say, is that there are so many voting options this year because of special exceptions carved out for absentee voting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have had very, very few mail-in ballots because we have people who have voted absentee rather than mail-in," said Charlie Davis, Jasper County clerk. That's because mail-in ballots must be notarized, and they also have to be returned by mail, he said. They cannot be delivered in person to the clerk's office.
People can cast absentee ballots in person at county clerks' offices or by mail without notarization. "When you look at that compared to absentee voting, there's no comparison" in the ease of voting, Davis said.
Eligibility to vote by absentee ballot was expanded for this year by Senate Bill 631 to allow people who could not risk going to the polls because of COVID-19 illness or who have at-risk conditions to vote without notary verification of their signatures.
The law defines people with at-risk factors as those who:
• Are 65 or older.
• Live in long-term care facilities.
• Have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, a serious heart condition, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis, have liver disease or are immunocompromised.
The notary requirement was challenged in Cole County Circuit Court by the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Missouri. The court ruled in favor of the requirement. That decision was appealed, and the Missouri Supreme Court upheld it on Friday, saying there is no constitutional right that applies to absentee voting.
Holly Hutchins, who works in the Barton County clerk's office at Lamar, said they had received about 200 requests for mail-in ballots. There are about 9,000 registered voters in that county.
"The application for an absentee ballot gives options a person could choose that makes them exempt from having to have their ballot notarized," Hutchins said. The clerk's office will mail absentee ballots for the convenience of the voter.
Absentee ballots that are not mail-in are more popular, Hutchins said, "I think for the most part because they don't require (a) notary."
While there haven't been many mail-in ballots requested in McDonald County, voters in Newton County have been the exception to slow business for the mail-in ballot in the region.
"It's extremely busy this year when it comes to those two things," Newton County Clerk Tami Owens said last week of absentee and mail-in balloting. "We only had 76 permanent absentee voters, and now we are well up over 500 and had 1,595 requests for mail-in ballots."
Absentee voting started Sept. 22, and there already had been 566 votes cast in Newton County as of Tuesday.
"It is extremely busy. I do encourage people to call us if they don't get a ballot within the next five days because we are processing them as quickly as we can," Owens said.
The last day to request or for the clerk to send out absentee or mail-in ballots is Oct. 21.
"If they miss that, they would still have the opportunity to come into the office to absentee vote," Owens said.