COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The United States Postal Service urged Missouri's top election official to inform voters on the timeline of voting by mail.
Thomas Marshall, the USPS' general counsel, wrote to Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on July 31 expressing concern about the state's deadlines for sending out ballots to voters who choose to send their completed ballots through the mail this November.
Voters have until Oct. 21 to tell their county clerk that they want to cast a ballot through the mail. State law requires clerks respond to that request within three business days, but the USPS said its own delivery standards may put ballots requested at or near the deadline "at risk" of not making it back to the clerk in time - by 7 p.m. on November 3.
"This mismatch creates a risk that some ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them," Marshall said.
The Missouri General Assembly made changes to this year's elections that expands the list of excuses for people to vote absentee because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters can also choose to have a ballot mailed to them if they don't have a valid excuse, but those ballots must be notarized when sent in.
Marshall recommended county clerks allow for one week of delivery time for blank ballots sent to voters, and that voters get their ballots in the mail by Oct. 27. The three-day response time by county clerks, however, could make it difficult for voters to complete their ballot and get it into the mail system in time.
Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon did not know about the USPS letter until ABC 17 News told her about it. She said she appreciated the postal service's concern over the deadlines.
"I think it's really important to know those deadlines that are really clear for people," Lennon said. "So I think it's a proactive way to show that voter education is really important as we're going into the November election."
Voters can send in applications to their county clerk now for the November election. Ballots will be sent out for those that have applied on September 22, the same day the clerk allows in-person absentee voting, Lennon said.
Ashcroft told ABC 17 News he encouraged voters to make their requests early if they choose to use the mail to vote, but did not support the idea of moving the request deadline any earlier. Doing so, he said, could disenfranchise people that are suddenly unable to make it to their polling place on Election Day.
"It happens every election, and it happens between Election Day and the cutoff date for requesting a ballot that they can return by mail, and suddenly they're not allowed to vote," Ashcroft said. "So the best thing for me to do is to keep that cutoff deadline as close to the election authority as I can so that everyone can vote."
At least one state legislator has already called for an expansion of the ongoing special legislative session underway in Jefferson City to tackle voting. Rep. Kip Kendrick (D-Columbia) asked Gov. Mike Parson to allow county clerks to count mailed-in ballots postmarked by the end of Election Day, rather than disqualifying those that don't make it in time.
Lennon said 85 ballots made it back to her office too late to be counted. She did not know if this was because of delays at the post office, but said any allowance for those votes to county would help.
"I think it's really worthwhile to look at what we can do to make sure those 85 voters would have been able to be counted and their voice be made heard," Lennon said.