Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said today on St. Louis on the Air that he is convinced the “plain language” of state law does not allow voters to cast an absentee ballot simply because they fear the coronavirus.
“There is no mention of someone that is scared of becoming sick … in which case it would not apply to a fear of the coronavirus,” he said.
But he vowed to have personal protective equipment in place for upcoming elections — and said he will not repeat Wisconsin’s mistakes.
During the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended election officials encourage voting options that don’t lead to long lines at the polls, such as vote-by-mail or early voting.
Ashcroft said he has been working to secure personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer for poll workers. That won’t be N95 masks, he added, which provide the highest degree of safety and are in short supply for medical workers. But he insisted that he has been carefully considering each part of the voting process, down to the need to sterilize pens between voters or offer disposable versions.
“We will have protective equipment for poll workers so that they will be protected,” he said. “We expect to be sending out between $4 and $5 million in federal grant money in the next week, along with suggestions. Not only have we been working to get that federal money ready to get disbursed, but we’ve been looking at potential things that we think the election authorities might want to spend it on to protect poll workers and voters. We’ve been talking to equipment manufacturers about what they’ve been doing.
“I didn’t want to come out and say, ‘We’ve got this’ until we had it,” he added. “We are confident that we are going to provide the materials to keep our poll workers safe.”
Ashcroft said he can’t demand local elections authorities take orders but said he is working with them to move polling places from nursing homes and assisted living facilities to empty school buildings. And he is determined to ensure local authorities won’t reduce the number of polling places, which led to long lines in Milwaukee last month.
“We have been pushing out to them, ‘You can’t be reducing polling places, because then you’re cramming people together,’” he said. Curbside voting and drive-thru voting are also on the table, he said.
The ACLU of Missouri has filed a lawsuit asking a Cole County judge to find that voters across the state have the right to cast an absentee ballot during the pandemic. As ACLU Legal Director Tony Rothert explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, he also believes the language of the law is clear and has arrived at a different conclusion.
But Ashcroft said that even beyond his reading of the law, he was not sympathetic to the argument. Allowing people to cast ballots by mail, as with absentee voting, presents major complications, he said.
“I have local election authorities [saying] that their greatest fear is that somehow it would be an all-mail-in election in their county,” Ashcroft said. “Because they’re not ready for that.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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