By THE KANSAS CITY STAR
SONJI BLACK wavered between voting by mail prior to (last) Tuesday’s election in Missouri or casting her ballot in person on Election Day.
A registered nurse from Kansas City, Black treats COVID-19 patients. Her schedule is hectic, and it’s “hard to get off work,” she told The Star Editorial Board. So, Black eventually requested a mail-in ballot.
In Missouri, non-absentee voters are required to have the envelopes for their mail-in ballots notarized.
The notary who signed off on Black’s paperwork used the wrong date. Black tried to alert the notary but was reassured her vote would count.
“But I wasn’t satisfied,” she said.
After a phone call to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, the situation eventually was rectified. Black requested a new envelope and dropped the ballot in the mail.
But there’s no reason that voting in Missouri should be this complicated. For too long, discussions about advanced voting requirements have gone nowhere as elected officials hemmed and hawed, making excuses and throwing up roadblocks. And, so even in the midst of a pandemic, voting remained unnecessarily difficult in the state.
Any registered voter can request a mail-in ballot. But those who want an absentee ballot must provide one of seven acceptable excuses.
Absentee ballots may be returned in person, but that’s not an option for mail-in ballots. A notary is required for some absentee ballots, but not for others.
The Legislature’s unwillingness to simplify the state’s antiquated early-voting process and clear the way for more Missourians to vote is inexcusable.
As Black can attest, all the unnecessary obstacles cause confusion — and could be a deterrent to those who don’t have the time or inclination to unravel the many complexities of the process.
“When you’re just a lay person you don’t know what you don’t know,” Black said. “It was a harrowing experience. I just wanted to cast my vote. We need a simple process.”
Kansas City’s attempt to offer curbside voting last week was a disorganized disaster — ”a hot mess” as the director of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition described it — and just one more example of all that’s wrong with voting in this state.
Voting should be easy and safe. Missouri officials must embrace the concept of no-excuse early voting. And residents should be allowed to vote at any polling site within their jurisdiction.
Missouri is one of only 16 states that require voters to provide an excuse for why they will not be able to vote on Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., offer no-excuse absentee or mail-in voting. Elections in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington state are conducted strictly by mail. Voters automatically receive a ballot without request. In the other 29 states and D.C., absentee mail ballots are available — no excuses required.
Missouri lawmakers must eliminate the excuse and notary requirements, as well as other barriers to early voting.
There’s no reason our state can’t do what the vast majority of states have already done and actually encourage voting. Missouri can and must do better.