Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) said Tuesday that fear of getting sick from COVID-19 or abiding by the his own stay-at-home order does not qualify voters to request an absentee ballot, calling absentee voting “more of a political issue than anything.”
“This is a Democrat-Republican issue and that’s where this is all headed, is to a political answer and what’s driving behind this force,” he added at his daily press briefing.
— Sean Soendker Nicholson (@ssnich) April 14, 2020
Parson’s office did not immediately respond to requests for clarification.
Going a step further, the Governor said that now is not the time to talk about election administration, though his state is slated to conduct local elections at the beginning of June.
“It’s about getting the economy started back up. It’s about getting people back to work,” he said. “There will be time to talk about the elections in November and August. But now is not the time for that.”
August 4 is the date of statewide primaries, and November 3 is, of course, the general election. The local elections were postponed to June 2. Missouri already held its presidential primary, won by former Vice President Joe Biden, in early March.
Per the Kansas City Star, the governor has previously said that he would not support legislation to expand absentee voting, saying “our system is fine.”
Currently, Missouri requires an excuse to cast an absentee ballot. “Incapacity or confinement due to illness or physical disability” counts, but there is no explicit allowance for people who fear getting ill at the polls, or who don’t want to run afoul of the Governor’s stay-at-home order.
Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) has said that he does not have the authority to interpret the state’s absentee ballot laws, and that such power lies with the courts. His office did not respond to questions about the governor’s comment.
This lack of action is leaving local officials to make their own call.
St. Francois County Clerk Kevin Engler is encouraging “as many people as possible,” especially seniors, to vote absentee.
Meanwhile, Corey Dillon, director of the Jackson County Election Board, told the Star that “fear of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus is not a legal reason to vote absentee in Missouri.”
According to Missouri law, casting an absentee ballot illegally is a felony.