Deadline nearing to finalize Amendment 3 wording as lawsuit continues

Local election officials around Missouri are waiting to know when exactly Nov. 3 general election ballots will be finalized - which will be determined by the timing of a ruling in a lawsuit over ballot language.

Meanwhile, officials expect more absentee ballots to be requested this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it being a major election year.

An appeals court on Friday heard arguments over whether the ballot language of proposed Amendment 3 would mislead voters.

The amendment is about changing the state's redistricting laws, and the lawsuit is about whether voters would understand a "yes" vote would repeal parts of a redistricting measure they approved two years ago by a 62 percent majority statewide.

Maura Browning, spokeswoman for the Missouri Secretary of State's Office, said the ballot can be changed by a court order no later than the close of business Sept. 8.

There's a Sept. 22 deadline for local election authorities to have ballots available to voters.

Dawn Cremains, Cole County's chief deputy clerk, said Friday that it would normally be about time now to get ballot information to the printing company, but with the pending litigation, there is no information yet on Amendment 3.

Sept. 22 is the first day absentee voting begins, and that's when Cremains said the county has to have its ballots ready.

The last day to register to vote in the November election is Oct. 7.

In St. Louis County, Democratic election board director Eric Fey said absentee ballots are printed on demand at the time they are requested, and once Sept. 8 passes, "we will put the final programming touches on our ballot so that testing can begin."

Statewide and federal candidates and statewide issues on the ballot were already certified this week by the Secretary of State's Office, Browning said.

She added: "If changes have to be made to the ballot as a result of a court order, our office would amend the ballot title (the language of the ballot measure) and send an email to all local election authorities with the new language. We are prepared to do this as soon as any court order is made."

As the September deadlines approach, local election officials are expecting more absentee ballots to be cast in November.

The Cole County office has so far received 500-600 applications for an absentee ballot, when normally there are not absentee applications until the end of September, Cremains said.

In November 2016 - the previous presidential election - 3,926 absentee ballots were cast, while 3,210 absentee ballots were case in November 2018, she said.

In addition to the usual legal justifications for casting an absentee ballot, Missourians in certain high-risk categories for COVID-19 are being allowed this year to cast mail-in absentee ballots - though there are two other lawsuits in the state's courts that seek to allow more voters to vote absentee and by mail.

Cremains expects there will be more than 4,000 absentee ballots cast in Cole County this November - and that more than that will be applied for, as it's never the case that everyone who requests an absentee ballot actually casts one.

Fey said about 90,000 applications have been received so far, and he anticipates at least 150,000 absentee or mail-in ballots would be requested in St. Louis County. He said 62,000 absentee ballots were cast in November 2016.

The Associated Press contributed information to this report.