Senate Bill 631, signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson June 4, allows absentee voting for those who have contracted COVID-19 or meet at-risk criteria.

Though the presidential election is more than nine weeks away, COVID-19 may endanger local voters on election day.

Nodaway County Clerk Melinda Patton said polling locations will have plexiglass and poll workers wearing masks. For those concerned about coming in contact with the coronavirus or passing it along to others by voting on Nov. 3, there are three main options for Missouri voters.

The most publicized alternate voting method is vote by mail. Mail-in ballots can be requested by sending an application or letter to the local election authority by mail or in person. Mail-in ballots need to be notarized and signed before being returned by mail.

Ballots can be notarized at the county clerk’s office, the Northwest Bursar’s Office in the Administration Building or at most libraries and banks. Mail-in ballots cannot be dropped off at a county clerk’s office.

While Postmaster General Louis DeJoy suspended the cost-cutting measures that were causing mail delays nationwide until after the election and the decision was later cemented by congressional legislation, voters may still have concern about their mail-in ballots arriving safely and on time.

Certain voters qualify to vote absentee. To qualify, a voter must be outside of the county on election day, be incompacitated due to an illness or physical disability, have a religious belief or practice preventing in-person voting, be working for or as an election authority at a location other than their polling place, be incarcerated or be a participant in the state’s address confidentiality program due to safety concerns.

This year, there is a special seventh excuse, as established by Senate Bill 631, which was signed by Gov. Mike Parson June 4, that allows voting absentee for those who have contracted COVID-19 or meet at-risk criteria.

At-risk voters include those who are 65 and older, are living in a long-term care facility, are immunocompromised or those who have a chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, a serious heart condition, diabetes, liver disease or chronic kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis.

Absentee ballots can be requested by mail, email, fax or in person, and requests must be signed. Unlike mail-in ballots, absentee ballots can be returned by mail or directly to the county clerk’s office and must be notarized unless the voter is living in a long-term care facility or qualifies for the special seventh exception.

Patton said all mail-in or absentee ballot requests must be received by the local election authority by 5 p.m. Oct. 21. However, for earlier requests, Nodaway County will begin mailing ballots Sept. 22.

For those who don’t qualify for voting absentee and don’t want to vote by mail or on Nov. 3, the last option is voting early at the county clerk’s office beginning Sept. 22. The office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In order to vote in Missouri in November, eligible voters must be registered by Oct. 7. A photo ID must be presented at some point in the voting process, either when registering or voting. If a voter registers in-person, then they don’t need to present an ID at the polls or before requesting a ballot.

If they’re a new Missouri voter, they need to register in person or present a photo ID on election day if they register online.

Patton said in an email her office is working hard to make voting safe, and she encourages voters to wear face masks and maintain six feet of social distance at all times. Lines may be long, she said, because of projected high numbers and judges following safety procedures.

She said her best advice is to make a voting plan and not wait until the last minute.

“If you aren’t sure where you’re registered, find out,” Patton said. “Don’t wait until just before to find out you are not a registered voter of Missouri. Nov. 3 will be here soon. Take the time to update your address, name change, voter registration location and prepare for your vote, whether it be from home or at your polling place.”

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