County election officials who have pitched a plan to keep voters safe amid the coronavirus outbreak appeared to pick up a key ally this week.
In a call with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Friday morning, House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said he agreed with their idea of letting voters cite the pandemic as a reason to vote absentee.
“I think everybody can say, 'Yes, if you're in a state of emergency, especially during a pandemic that manifests itself and spreads from person to person, we do not want you coming to the polls,’” Haahr said. “That is a very appropriate excuse for absentee voting.”
Currently, only people who have one of six specific excuses, like illness or travel away from home on election day, can mail in or drop off a ballot early.
County clerks, notably Greene County’s Shane Schoeller, have said that's not enough right now given concerns about the virus spreading in crowded areas.
That idea got a different reaction from Gov. Mike Parson, a fellow Republican, earlier this month.
He dismissed the call for changes as a “Democrat-Republican issue” despite support for the proposal from county clerks in both parties. Parson said dealing with elections could wait for a more appropriate time.
“There will be time to talk about the elections in November, and August, but now's not the time for that,” Parson said April 14.
Missouri’s next elections are the municipal contests set for June 2, which Parson himself rescheduled from April 7.
Haahr said lawmakers would likely hold a hearing on elections-related issues in the next three weeks. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the capitol Monday following a lengthy, coronavirus-induced recess.
If the legislature makes the change clerks want, Missouri will join a number of other states encouraging mail-in voting during the pandemic, including several other Republican-led states.
GOP-led Indiana, another state that usually requires specific excuses to vote absentee, is letting everyone do it in the June 2 primary, for example.
And in Republican-controlled Iowa, which already gives everyone the option, officials are mailing everyone an absentee application for its June 2 primary to save them time.
In Missouri, advocates for expanding absentee voting have also taken their arguments to court.
Civil rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed suit last week asking a judge to allow people sheltering in place to cite an excuse of “incapacity or confinement due to illness.”
No decision had been rendered in the case as of deadline Friday, according to online court records.
Others have urged Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to simply declare that everyone can vote absentee due to the pandemic.
Ashcroft, a Republican, has said multiple times that such action would be illegal.
He said in a recent interview he is open to the clerks’ idea moving through legislation, though.