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A Cole County judge has denied a motion for a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by two state advocate groups related to mail-in voting.

Judge Jon Beetem issued the decision Friday; he will schedule another hearing in the lawsuit, filed by the Missouri NAACP and the League of Women Voters, later this month.

Last month, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the lawsuit, which aims to allow all Missourians to cast absentee ballots without notarization in 2020, can proceed.

The case was sent back to Beetem who had in May dismissed the lawsuit, finding the plaintiffs failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The Supreme Court reversed that decision.

The organizations filed the suit challenging the constitutional validity of absentee voting legislation that was approved by the Missouri Legislature on the final day of session in May and later signed by Gov. Mike Parson.

While the law expands voting by mail through the rest of 2020, the advocate groups filed the lawsuit because of the portion of the legislation that requires notarization for those voting by mail.

The groups argue requiring some voters to get a notary could put their health and the health of others at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his ruling Friday, Beetem said the plaintiffs have presented no new arguments. He noted the groups' medical expert testified during earlier testimony about several factors where in-person voting could increase COVID transmission risks, but when cross-examined, they admitted these risk factors would be much lower for a brief in-person interaction with a notary, thus being "significantly less risky than in-person voting."

"Absent evidence that the 'consistently effective social distancing and related strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19' could not be employed in the notary circumstances, the court concludes that plaintiffs have not made a convincing showing of irreparable harm from the notarization requirement for mail-in ballots," Beetem wrote in his Friday decision.

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