Missouri rejected 544 ballots during the August 2020 primary because they weren't notarized, according to data from the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
It’s a small number among the almost 5,000 absentee ballots rejected — and the votes wouldn’t have made a difference in any of the races. Most weren’t counted because the ballot arrived after the deadline or the ballot envelope wasn’t signed.
But it adds fire to the claims by voting rights groups that the new law is confusing and an unnecessary extra step in a process that may already be challenging to some voters.
Becky Yockey, chair of voter services for Kansas City’s League of Women Voters, said the 544 ballots that might not “seem like a huge number in a state with millions of people.”
“But every vote counts,” Yockey said, “and I think that's what we all want to believe. We live in a democracy and all these voices should be heard.”
The notary requirement has been contentious ever since Missouri lawmakers voted earlier this year to allow anyone to vote by mail. Voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters, challenged the requirement in court, arguing voters had to risk their health by going out to get their ballot notarized in order to cast a mail-in ballot.
The groups contended that come November, the rate of
ballot rejected due to the notary requirement would increase because people who vote in the primary are more "politically informed." They also said the number of ballots rejected likely undercount the "magnitude of the disenfranchisement" because it doesn't include voters who end up not mailing back their ballot because they couldn't get a notary.
The state argued there’s no evidence the requirement caused someone to get COVID-19 during the August primary and changing the requirements less than a month before the election would be confusing.
The court upheld the requirement earlier this month, stating that voting absentee is not a fundamental right.
Missouri requires voters to have their ballot notarized for all mail-in ballots and some absentee ballots. In order to vote absentee, a Missouri voter selects one of seven excuses. If you’re casting an absentee ballot because you’ve contracted the coronavirus, you’re in an at-risk category for getting COVID-19, or an illness or physical disability results in “incapacity or confinement,” you do not need your ballot notarized.
Republican Rep. Dan Shaul wrote the provision to create the mail-in voting option. The Jefferson County lawmaker said the notary requirement ensures voters are who they say they are.
“There are parameters to vote, just like there is other things in life. There are certain rules you have to follow,” Shaul said. “And I think the Secretary of State's done a very good job, making people aware of what those requirements are, and I believe the local election authorities have, too. “
The mail-in voting option was enacted because of the pandemic and expires at the end of 2020. Shaul, the chairman of the House committee handling election legislation, said he wants to see Missouri enact stricter voter identification laws.
“Once we get that done, then I would certainly entertain and consider and talk about mail-in ballots,” Shaul said.
When Ken Stewart heard about the notary requirement, he decided to become a notary as a way to “give back to the community.” Stewart said this election cycle he’s paying more attention to voting access issues.
“This is the first time I've really paid that much attention,” Stewart said. “Because it's always just been, you just get up early in the morning and stand in line and have your coffee and vote and then go to work.”
Missouri’s Secretary of State has a list of notary resources on their website.