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story.lead_photo.caption A small bottle of hand sanitizer sits on a table in front of a row of voting booths on Tuesday at The Linc. Sanitizer could be found on check in tables around the room to promote cleanliness in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Liv Paggiarino/News Tribune Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

Missouri voters were able to cast a vote by mail for the first time in Tuesday's primary election, and they'll be able to do so again for the Nov. 3 general election.

But because the change was made so close to the August primary, the state didn't have a means to calculate how many absentee votes were cast by mail or in person, and the Secretary of State's office says it won't be able to differentiate between absentee votes in November either.

In June, Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation making it easier for people to vote from home due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"Any Missourian affected by COVID-19 should still be able to vote, including those who are sick or considered at-risk," Parson said in a statement.

Maura Browning, spokeswoman for the Missouri Secretary of State's Office, said 61,701 Missourians voted absentee in the August 2016 primary. In 2020, the number jumped to 231,000.

As of this week, Browning noted, the 2020 number represents how many requested an absentee ballot, not necessarily how many were cast.

"We will not have actual numbers of absentee ballots cast until the election is certified on Aug. 24," Browning said. "In fact, military votes were allowed to be collected until Friday at noon."

She noted the absentee voting system will not differentiate between mail-in and absentee ballots by the November election because the provisions that allow residents to vote by mail expire Dec. 31.

"Our system was never designed to account for mail-in ballots; it would not be a wise use of time to change our voter database for one election," Browning said. "The mail-in option is a temporary one, only available in 2020."

Missouri voters requesting a mail-in ballot should complete a request form — available on the Secretary of State's Office website at sos.mo.gov/elections/goVoteMissouri/howtovote — and return it to their local election authority either in person or by mail. A mail-in ballot cannot be requested by email, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Voters not considered "at-risk" under the law could mail an application for a ballot to their local election authority. Once approved and mailed back, however, the ballots would need to be signed by the voter and validated by a notary public before their return.

Voters who fall within "at-risk" categories as defined in the law can vote absentee and will not need notary approval. Those include people who are 65 or older, are immunocompromised, or have certain chronic or respiratory illnesses.

If you wish to vote by mail and cannot request the ballot yourself, a close relative, such as a spouse, parent or child, may complete a mail-in ballot request in person on your behalf. Mail-in ballot requests must be submitted to a voter's local election authority, not the Secretary of State's Office.

To have a ballot mailed to you, your request for an absentee or mail-in ballot must be received by your local election authority by 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday prior to Election Day. For the November election, the deadline is 5 p.m. Oct. 21.

Oct. 7 is the last day to register to vote in the November election. The Cole County Clerk's Office will be open until 5 p.m. that day for people to register in person.

"We're glad that there's been some movement towards accessible voting, but it's far from perfect," Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Storey said. "The lack of clarity surrounding absentee and vote by mail needs to be addressed. Flow charts shouldn't be necessary to cast your ballot."

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