November 24, 2020

Early voting differs between Missouri and Illinois

Senior John Wallis had several factors and obstacles playing into voting early in Missouri. Sophomore Garrett Dohlke simply showed up at a polling place with his voter ID.

Senior John Wallis cast his ballot for the general election on Oct. 13. He did not mail an absentee or mail-in ballot – he voted in-person at the county clerk’s office in his hometown of Neosho, Missouri.

For Wallis, casting his absentee ballot in-person felt like his best option. He questioned the ability of the postal service in his area. He remembered a time when he did not receive the absentee ballot he had requested through the mail until election day.

“So that was already concerning for me. And that was an election that wasn’t during a presidential year that was two years ago during municipal elections,” Wallis said. 

Missouri allows residents who qualify for absentee voting to cast their votes in-person six weeks prior to the general election, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s website. Unlike states like Illinois, however, Missouri only offers in-person absentee voting.

Because Wallis lives in Neosho, Missouri – but would be away at Webster University during the general election – he was allowed to vote absentee. Wallis said he had to fill out a form regarding why he needed to vote absentee when he went to the county clerk’s office.

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

“The process was really quick. I was like the eight hundredth voter that voted absentee in person in my county. But the process wasn’t difficult,” Wallis said. “It was just going in, filling out the form, getting my ballot and then submitting it.”

Webster student Garrett Dohlke also participated in early voting – casting his vote for the general election on Oct. 12 in Belleville, Illinois. For Dohlke, early in-person voting made the most sense for his situation. He does not have a car on campus, so he was unsure if he would be able to get to a post office to get a ballot sent through the mail.

“Plus, I just thought it was probably going to be safer to vote in-person early than in-person on Election Day,” Dohlke said. 

Illinois offers no-excuse early voting. Dohlke was not required to offer an explanation about why he could not vote on election day. When he went to his local courthouse, he completed a signature match and voted.

Dohlke was previously unaware Missouri’s early voting system differed from Illinois, but he said his family enjoys the early-voting option.

“I think it kind of encourages people to vote if they know they can vote early, if they know that there’s a quick and easy process,” Dohlke said. “I think it could probably help get more people voting.”

Although Wallis felt the in-person absentee voting process in Missouri has been made easier this year due to COVID-19, he thought Missouri could benefit from an early-voting system which is more like the one used in Illinois. 

“I think that Missouri should have had early voting a long time ago without needing an excuse …” Wallis said. “It’s just crazy to me to think that you wouldn’t want someone to vote or, you know, you have to have an excuse just to be able to vote. I think that’s just stupid.”

For anyone planning on voting early, Wallis suggested researching the candidates and amendments on your local ballot. 

Wallis also advised people who are considering voting through in-person absentee to contact their county clerk’s office if they are concerned about contracting COVID-19. While his local county clerk’s office required masks, Wallis said staying socially distanced was difficult and voting booths were not spaced properly.

“If your concerns about voting in-person on Election Day are that there won’t be guidelines in place to protect your health and safety, then if you’re voting early, you want to make sure that that is something that’s going to happen,” Wallis said. 

For Dohlke, the early-voting process felt safe. He said people took his temperature and asked questions to screen for COVID-19 like symptoms. He said everyone wore masks and hand sanitizer was also available. 

“I think it would be a great thing to do, especially if you don’t want to have to worry about trying to, you know, miss class or trying to get from school to your polling place on Election Day,” Dohlke said.

According to the Saint Louis County Election Board’s website, in-person absentee voting will be available until 5 p.m. on Nov. 2. Saint Louis County residents who hope to vote in-person absentee can do so by going to the St. Louis County Board of Elections up to six weeks before election day. The Board of Elections is located at 725 Northwest Plaza Dr. St. Ann, Missouri.

Starting Oct. 22, Saint Louis County residents will also be able to cast in-person absentee ballots at four other satellite locations, such as the St. Louis County Library. For more information regarding in-person absentee voting satellite locations, visit Saint Louis County’s map of polling places.

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