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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2017, file photo, Republican Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft speaks in Valley Park, Mo. Missouri's top election official says abortion-rights advocates can start collecting signatures for a public vote on a new law restricting abortions. But abortion-rights advocates say Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, decision leaves them with only two weeks to collect enough signatures. The law would ban most abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft encouraged qualifying voters Tuesday to use temporary absentee and mail-in voting options provided by Senate Bill 631 in the August and November elections.

Voters who contract or face higher health risks from contracting COVID-19 will be able to vote absentee in this year's elections after Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill into law last month.

At-risk voters, as outlined by the law, include those 65 or older; live in a licensed long-term care facility; are immunocompromised; or have chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, diabetes, liver disease or chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis.

Sponsors of the bill said it includes measures to prevent voter fraud and ballot harvesting.

A mail-in absentee ballot will be an option only for voters who specifically request one. Voters must also submit a notarized statement under penalty of perjury with their ballot. Ballots must be returned and received in an envelope postmarked by U.S. Mail by 7 p.m. on election day, Aug. 4.

SB 631 also includes a provision to give voters who have contracted or face high risk from contracting COVID-19 the option to cast an absentee ballot without notarization.

Both provisions of the law expire Dec. 31.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail for the August election is 5 p.m. July 22.

As of Tuesday, the Cole County Clerk's Office reported it had received 717 requests for absentee ballots and had 243 returned. There had been 79 absentee votes cast in the clerk's office.

In the last August primary, 919 absentee votes were counted.

Today is the last day to register to vote in the Aug. 4 primary election. Registration is open until 5 p.m. at the Cole County Clerk's Office, located on the second floor of the county courthouse annex at 311 E. High St. in Jefferson City.

For any questions regarding the upcoming election, call the Cole County Clerk's Office at 573-634-9101 or visit colecounty.org/clerk.

"I want to assure Missouri voters that their local election authorities are taking many precautions to make voting in person is safe and secure," Ashcroft said. "Voting in person is still the most secure way to cast a ballot."

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