JEFFERSON CITY — With a separate case over ballot notarization still not resolved and the election clock ticking, Cole County Judge Dan Green has scheduled an early October trial for a new and broader challenge to Missouri's new mail-in voting legislation.
Through a trio of St. Louis area plaintiffs, the Washington-based advocacy group "American Women" is suing the state of Missouri over most of the constraints imposed on mail-in voting in the Show-Me State.
Specifically, the suit wants to eliminate both the notarization requirement and the requirement that says those ballots must be returned by mail. It would allow third parties to collect and submit mail-in ballots, change the protocols for matching voter registration and mail-in ballot envelope signatures.
And, perhaps most important under pandemic circumstances, allow for the countability of any ballot postmarked by Election Day instead of requiring that it be received by Election Day.
The state argues its restrictions are reasonable and plaintiffs have no constitutional legislation to stand on.
"They haven't raised federal constitutional claims in this case. But in fact, the federal constitutional law is the same," Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer said. "In the 1960s, in McDonald against Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there's no constitutional right to vote by mail, to cast an absentee ballot. And so, restrictions on that are subject to rational basis scrutiny."
The plaintiffs counter that, because the state legislature agreed to provide for special mail-in voting during the pandemic, the rules cannot thwart the fundamental right to cast a ballot.
They argue, for example, the voter is not responsible for the staffing or protocols at the post office and, as a result, the voter cannot be allowed to lose the voting franchise for a timely ballot not delivered in a timely manner.
They say the mail-in ballot now is more than a simple convenience or accommodation.
"The ability to vote by mail is necessary to protect the right to vote," plaintiffs' attorney Ozoma Nkwonta said.
Judge Green rejected the state's motion for an immediate ruling in their pleadings. He also rejected the state's request for 12 weeks, long after Election Day, to prepare their case for trial; a time frame which conceivable could invalidate the results of the election in Missouri.
Instead, he set the case for a three-day trial beginning October 5th.