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Vote by mail? St. Louis hasn’t decided

CITY HALL – A push is on in the Board of Aldermen to pressure city election officials to mail out absentee ballot applications for the June, August and November elections to everybody in the high-risk age group of 60 or over.

Gary Stoff, Republican Director of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, said the board wasn’t considering that.

“We don’t think the current law allows us to do this,”  he said. A statement by Missouri Secretary of State John R. “Jay” Ashcroft said he didn’t think he could do that.

That didn’t stop the St. Louis County Board of Elections from mailing out absentee ballot applications for the June, August, and November 2020 elections to all registered voters age 60 and older.

Fifteenth Ward Alderwoman Megan Green hopes a resolution she introduced in the Board of Aldermen will nudge the city election board to change its mind. 

The resolution asks, as a minimum, that the election board mail out applications to those 60 and older for the three elections this year. Ideally, it says, they should be sent to all voters in the city.

The aldermanic Legislation Committee approved the resolution in a teleconference meeting on Tuesday. The full Board of Aldermen still needs to act on it.

“We want to make sure that we are not asking people to choose between their health and access to the ballot box,” Green said, noting that only applications for absentee ballots would be sent out. “We are not sending ballots to anybody. We are just sending the paperwork.”

Denise Lieberman, an area lawyer who works on voting rights issues, told Legislation Committee members that the proposal actually was a common sense measure. 

“We already do this in Missouri for categories of voters,” Lieberman said. “This is something that many, many states are doing.” 

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro said the measure wasn’t a board bill, but a nonbinding resolution.

“They can throw this in the trash if they wish,” Vaccaro said. “I don’t see the problem with it.”

And 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan said, “It’s incredibly important to make sure that everybody has access to this.”

The resolution says that the St. Louis County Board of Elections mailed out absentee ballot applications, with return envelopes, for the June, August, and November 2020 elections to all registered voters 60 years of age and older residing in St. Louis County in order to ensure voting access for at-risk population, and that the city should do the same.   

“Even during national crises, such as pandemics, maintaining safe access to voting is essential to maintaining democracy,” the resolution says. 

The measure says that state law says that“confinement due to illness” is a qualifier for voting via an absentee ballot applied to those who could be self-isolating, self-quarantining or social distancing because of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that election officials encourage mail-in voting, early voting and drive-through voting to help people minimize direct contact and cut the size of crowds at polling stations.  

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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