JEFFERSON CITY — Democrats on Monday called on Gov. Mike Parson to back a proposal that would allow all mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to count, but the Republican governor didn’t immediately show enthusiasm for the idea.
Missouri law now requires ballots to be received by election authorities by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
The call by Democrats followed the U.S. Postal Service’s recommendation that all voters casting ballots by mail in Missouri send them back by Oct. 27, a week before Election Day. Election authorities expect a higher volume of mailed ballots as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“For states and governors not doing enough to ensure every vote is counted is unacceptable,” state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, told reporters Monday at a news conference, asking that Parson include the proposal in the special session currently underway.
Parson called a special legislative session last month to address violent crime. His spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, said Monday the governor didn’t plan to deviate from that topic.
“At this time, Gov. Parson has no plans to expand special session any further,” she said. “His focus has been and continues to be on violent crime.”
Jones didn’t immediately respond to a question Monday about whether Parson had the ability to waive the requirement that ballots need to be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Parson, who declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic, has temporarily waived numerous other statutes in the last several months.
Ashcroft, Faleti differ
When asked if Ashcroft supported changing the law amid a pandemic, a spokeswoman restated Missouri law.
“The law is clear that ballots must be received by close of polls (7 p.m.) on Election Day,” Maura Browning said in an email. “The Secretary of State cannot change that.”
Though voters casting absentee ballots may return those ballots in person at their local election authority, mail-in ballots — a new option lawmakers approved this year — must be returned by mail, Browning said.
She said voters may request absentee or mail-in ballots online at GoVoteMissouri.com.
Yinka Faleti, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, blasted Ashcroft on Monday during the Democrats’ news conference, saying he concealed the Postal Service’s recommendation that ballots should be sent back by Oct. 27.
The Post-Dispatch reported Friday on the recommendations in a July 31 letter from the Postal Service to Ashcroft.
The day before, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Pennsylvania election authorities had received a similar letter.
“A responsible secretary of state would’ve informed us right away,” Faleti said. “How did we learn of this critical advisory? Only after media in another state, the Philadephia Inquirer, reported a similar notification.”
Browning said the secretary of state’s office received the letter Aug. 4.
She said the office didn’t forward the letter to local election authorities, but added that election authorities and the secretary of state are still working to certify the results of the August primary.
Browning said Ashcroft had implemented new options in 2018, such as pushing the absentee ballot deadline back and allowing absentee ballot requests online, that “reduce dependence on the U.S. Postal Service.”
In Illinois, as long as the absentee or mail-in ballot is postmarked by Election Day and received within 14 days, it will be accepted.
St. Louis County prepares
Rick Stream, Republican director of the St. Louis County Board of Elections, said that the board had for years grappled with Postal Service delays.
“In the 3½ years I’ve been here, the one big problem that we’ve had is with the Postal Service,” he said. “We can’t guarantee that they’re going to deliver fast.”
But, he said county election officials had also worked with the Postal Service, even stationing staff in regional postal service offices to collect all ballots on hand at 7 p.m. on Election Day.
“We feel confident that we’re going to have a handle on all of this,” Stream said.
Despite all efforts, he said, some voters will not turn in their ballots early.
“There are going to be some people that don’t fully understand what they need to be doing,” Stream said.
Stream, a former state representative from Kirkwood, wouldn’t opine on whether the Election Day deadline should be scrapped, but said the Legislature had resisted such moves in the past.
“They have their beliefs on voting on election day and that absentee ballots need to be in on election day — so we can report out on Election Day,” he said.
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