Missouri lawmakers look to tighten mail in voting to ward off 'fraud'

ADAM SATRYA JACKSON
Missouri News Network

In an unremitting bid to clamp down on “voter fraud,” Republican House lawmakers want to prevent any individual or organization from distributing absentee ballot request forms to eligible voters.

HB 1362 — proposed by Rep. Hardy Billington, R-Poplar Bluff — would add a line to existing election law stating that “No individual or organization shall distribute unsolicited applications for absentee ballots by mail, electronic mail or any other means.”

The proposal received support from sitting Republican committee members, such as Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, who has publicly touted knowledge of alleged fraudulent “dead voters” being included in voter rolls. She said she also believes the forms shouldn’t be automatically sent out by a local election authority.

“I don’t care what your age is,” she said, “I don’t think you should automatically be sent a form if you’re over a certain age. So, I think this is a good thing because if they start sending unsolicited — or even handing out forms — I think it could open it to potential fraud.”

She added that the language “doesn’t prohibit somebody saying ‘Hey, if you need an absentee ballot, please contact your local election authority.’”

Democratic lawmakers on the committee oppose the bill and say it is another way of preventing mail-in voting, which became a necessary avenue to vote for many amidst a dangerous pandemic. Expanded voting has historically benefited Democratic candidates.

It is not uncommon for an organization or politician to distribute to their constituents the forms needed to request an absentee ballot for upcoming elections said Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City.

Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, contended that the language wouldn’t prevent distribution of the forms to a constituent if they asked for it.

Under the proposal, unsolicited distribution of the request forms could become a class four election offense, which results in a misdemeanor.

Currently, the process by which a Missourian can receive an absentee ballot goes like this: An individual receives a notification that an election is coming up and can request an application for an absentee ballot. That application for the absentee ballot sent by the local election authority, along with a notarized signature, would need to be filled out and sent back in return for a ballot.

Gov. Mike Parson and the GOP-led legislature have consistently rejected appeals for more lenient mail-in voting options in the past, contending that even eliminating the notary requirement could lead to voter fraud.

Absentee ballots and mail-in ballots both require a voter to have their ballot notarized, a controversial requirement voting rights advocates have said is an unnecessary roadblock to safe voting, but a couple of absentee voting groups are exempt from the notary requirement.

Absentee voters can vote in person or by mail. But mail-in ballots cannot be submitted in person and must go through the mail.

Ranking Minority Whip Rep. Doug Clemens, D-St. Ann, said he’s reluctant to believe that the bill would prevent any hypothetical instance of voter fraud proposed during the hearing.

“I see a low percentage for attempting any fraud here,” he said. “Maybe it’s possible that you get somebody that’s really driven to steal like, one person’s vote. You’re talking about 80-90 hours of labor to try and steal one vote.”

Mo Del Villar of the ACLU of Missouri testified against the proposal and said that handing a voter an absentee ballot application is nothing more than providing them information on an election.

“These applications are not being filled out for these individuals,” she added. “Voters are not being forced or compelled to complete these forms or even being forced to vote absentee at the end of day.”

“They’re simply being made aware of the process by which they have access to the ballot — something that many voters, and apparently representatives, may find hard to navigate at times,” she said.

No action was taken on the measure.