Lawmakers move to expand Missouri absentee voting amid virus

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House on Wednesday advanced a proposal to ensure voters can cast absentee ballots this year if they’re worried about in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

House lawmakers on Wednesday approved an amendment to another election-related bill that would allow voters to request to have ballots mailed to them so they could avoid Election Day crowds. Voters would need to get their absentee ballots notarized.

Missouri currently requires voters to give an excuse to vote absentee. One excuse is illness, but the law is unclear on whether that covers people who are not sick with coronavirus but are worried about catching it.

House lawmakers in response are trying to make it clear that any voter this year can request an absentee ballot.

“There will be no gray area in the law,” Republican Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch said. “If they are afraid to go vote, this year only, because of COVID, they can request an absentee ballot.”

Senate approval is needed to pass the bill by lawmakers’ Friday deadline. The proposal also would need to be approved by Republican Gov. Mike Parson.

The policy won bipartisan approval in the House. Still, Democratic Rep. Deb Lavender questioned the point of absentee voting if ballots still need to be notarized.

“If I’m worried about going to the polls because I might get COVID, why would I not be worried about going to get it notarized?” she said.

House members also on Wednesday approved legislation that would make Missouri the final state to create a database to track prescription opioids and other potentially addictive medications.

Supporters of such programs argue they can help battle the opioid epidemic by alerting doctors of possible prescription drug misuse by patients.

Primarily Republican critics for years have pushed back against prescription drug monitoring programs over concerns about patient privacy and disbelief that such a program will do much to help stop and prevent addiction.

The measure passed the House on Wednesday with support from Democrats, who earlier this week deserted the bill after it was paired with an increase in criminal penalties for getting caught with the deadly opioid fentanyl.

That provision has been stripped from the bill, which needs another vote of approval from the notoriously skeptical Senate.


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