It is time for Missouri to allow no-excuses absentee balloting; everyone eligible to vote should be able to do so by mail, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
What we must not do is force Missouri residents to choose between their right to cast their ballot in our representative democracy and their health and safety.
Americans saw that when voters were forced to go to the polls in Wisconsin with the coronavirus pandemic raging. Twelve states had primaries scheduled in April. Wisconsin was the only one that actually conducted in-person primary voting. Hundreds of voters in the Wisconsin primary had not received requested absentee ballots in time to vote by mail.
A reasonable accommodation would have been to delay the election or offer a deadline extension for those absentee ballots. The Wisconsin Legislature was unwilling to make such changes. After extensive efforts to solve the problem, including an appeal to the Supreme Court, voters who valued their duty to representative government were forced to cast ballots in person at a time when Americans were being urged to avoid crowds and shelter at home.
To make things worse, poll workers stayed away in droves, forcing consolidation of polling stations that pressed voters into long and crowded lines to cast their ballots. Some voters who had requested absentee ballots and hadn’t received them were recovering from COVID-19 and said they stayed away from the polls, giving up their right to vote in favor of protecting public health, a choice they shouldn’t have been forced to make.
Now at least 36 people who voted in person or worked the polls for the state's April 7 primary have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. While there is no certainty that those who tested positive were exposed at the polls, the likelihood is that a significant proportion contracted the illness there given the level of risk of exposure to the coronavirus in such a gathering.
The deaths of any of those voters should be laid at the feet of the state legislators who voted against reasonable accommodations to limit the risk. Wisconsin voters should hold them to account.
And Missouri lawmakers should take note and act swiftly to revise election laws to avoid the same situation here.
We hope the threat of COVID-19 is over soon, but elections will get here in June, then August and in November, and it is likely to remain a threat. Health experts have said a resurgence of the coronavirus is likely in the fall. Even if on a temporary emergency basis, election laws should be revised to allow no-excuses absentee voting.
Lawmakers should craft a measure to bolster the absentee voting to preserve both public health and the most fundamental right in our republic.