Ashcroft says the state won’t distribute ballot drop boxes to avoid confusion with new law

Austin Huguelet
Springfield News-Leader

Missouri’s top elections official says he’s holding back on distributing dozens of ballot drop-off boxes he was going to send around the state this fall out of concern they’ll breed confusion among voters.
Election authorities in other states have installed the boxes in libraries, community centers and other public places to make returning absentee ballots more convenient and offer a way around a troubled U.S. Postal Service. But in a Facebook Live broadcast Monday, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, said that isn’t feasible in Missouri right now with a new law allowing anyone to vote a “mail-in” ballot this fall.
Unlike Missouri’s absentee ballots, which are only available to people meeting specific legal criteria, the new “mail-in” ballots can’t be returned in person. They have to be returned through the mail to count. And Ashcroft said he’s concerned “mail-in” voters could get confused by the boxes, drop in their ballots on accident and “self-disenfranchise.”
Ashcroft said that wasn’t a problem when the state first ordered the boxes early this spring. But after the legislature passed a bill he opposed creating the “mail-in” ballots in May, it became an issue.
“When we looked at that, we realized that if someone erroneously put a mail-in ballot into that ballot box, the ballot wouldn’t count and they would be disenfranchised,” he said. “We just don’t think that’s good customer service to set up an environment where it’s likely that people would self-disenfranchise.”
Not everyone is happy with the decision. Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, a Democrat, received 150 requests for mail-in ballots for the August primary compared to more than 8,000 absentee requests and said she’s not sure it’s worth withholding the boxes from that kind of majority.
“Considering the extremely low number of mail-in ballot requests we’ve had, we would reach out to the voters if we found one in the box and have them submit it properly,” she said. “We would also post signs on the box with pictures of which ballot can go in it.” “It’s a voter education opportunity,” she added.
But Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, a Republican, backed Ashcroft’s logic, saying that correcting mistakes would get harder the closer they get to Nov. 3. “If you’re weeks away, that works,” he said. “But the concern I would have is that closer to the election, can you still give the voter enough time to mail that back or vote in person?”
The mail-in ballot statute, a product of compromise between Democrats who wanted to let everyone use absentee ballots and Republicans reluctant to allow any expansion of mail-in voting at all, expires at the end of the year.
Ashcroft said his office will distribute the boxes after that. In the meantime, Lennon says her office is looking at having staff members set up drop-off locations themselves this year to offer the same kind of service without the boxes.
But she noted that will cost staff time, with money already at a “heavy premium” this year.


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