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Why Missourians at risk for COVID-19 should vote absentee, not mail-in

One important distinction makes absentee the better choice for those with COVID-19 risk factors

ST. LOUIS — With more people interested in voting by mail this upcoming election than ever before, there has been some confusion surrounding the difference between mail-in and absentee voting and which one to apply for.

If you are in the at-risk group for COVID-19, you have the choice between the two. But going with absentee will generally be easier.

The main difference is in whether you will need to have your ballot notarized — in other words, whether you'll have to go to a public officer who will verify your identity and authenticate your ballot.

RELATED: Are mail-in and absentee ballots the same? Not in Missouri

In Missouri, absentee ballots are for those who have an accepted excuse not to vote in person. There are seven total excuses -- the most recent addition is having COVID-19 risk factors.

You must check off one of the following excuses to request an absentee ballot:

  1. Will not be in town on election day
  2. Incapacity or confinement due to illness or physical disability, including primary caretakers
  3. Religious belief or practice
  4. Employment as an election authority, as a member of an election authority, or by an election authority at a location other than such voter's polling place
  5. Incarceration, provided all qualifications for voting are retained
  6. Certified participation in the address confidentiality program because of safety concerns
  7. Has contracted or is in an at-risk category for contracting or transmitting COVID-19

For two of these excuses —  being at risk for COVID-19 or being incapacited or confined due to illness or physical disability — a notary is not required. Absentee voting applicants are also not required by law to submit proof of COVID-19 risk factors.

To be considered at-risk for COVID-19, you must meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • Are 65 years of age or older
  • Live in a long-term care facility licensed under Chapter 198, RSMo.
  • Have chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • Have serious heart conditions
  • Are immunocompromised
  • Have diabetes
  • Have chronic kidney disease and are undergoing dialysis
  • Have liver disease.

To request an absentee ballot, you can contact your local election authority or fill out an online form. To return the ballot, you can drop it off in person at the election authority or send it through the mail. 

Absentee voters can also vote in person at their local election authority office from Sept. 22 up until 5 p.m. the night before the election.

Find your local election authority

Anyone can request a mail-in ballot without an excuse, but notarization is a requirement, and it cannot be dropped off in person — it must be mailed back to an election authority via U.S. mail.

If you have to have your ballot notarized, the Missouri Secretary of State's website has a list of free notaries in the St. Louis area and beyond.

The deadline to apply for both mail-in and absentee is 5 p.m. Oct. 21. Officials have strongly encouraged that voters mail their ballots back no later than a week before the election so that they arrive in time to be counted.

For more information on mail-in voting, visit the secretary of state's voting guide.


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