Most Mid-Missouri counties are seeing a record-breaking number of absentee ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election, but how residents return their absentee ballots to local election authorities can dictate when the ballots are processed.
Since 2018, local election authorities in Missouri have been allowed to use voting machines to process absentee ballots, after the Missouri Legislature passed a bill in 2016 amending State Statute 115.257.
When Mid-Missouri residents vote absentee at their county clerk's offices, they can put their ballots directly into voting machines if their local election authorities offer that option. The machines process the ballots immediately.
"It allows them to run them through the tabulator, but technically, they're not counted until Election Day," said Maura Browning, Missouri Secretary of State's Office director of public affairs and strategic communications.
The Cole County Clerk's Office, along with several other Mid-Missouri county clerks' offices, use voting machines to process absentee ballots.
"It's sent in right then, so if they come here (the Cole County Clerk's Office) to vote, they know for sure their vote counted," Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer said.
However, if residents don't vote absentee at their local election authorities' offices — for example, if they send their ballots via mail or use curbside absentee voting — those ballots are placed in a sealed or locked location, local county clerks said.
Election authorities are not allowed to count those ballots until 6 a.m. on Election Day, Browning said.
While absentee ballots not filled out at the election authority's office can't be counted until Election Day, county clerks can allow bipartisan teams to review absentee ballot envelopes no more than five days before Election Day, Browning said.
During this period, the bipartisan teams ensure the absentee ballot envelopes are filled out correctly.
The Cole County Clerk's Office began this process Saturday.
Since absentee ballots can be processed at different times, depending on how the local election authorities receive them, absentee ballots from voters who voted but died before Election Day are treated differently.
If a resident puts his or her absentee ballot into the voting machine at the local election authority's office but dies before Election Day, his or her ballot is still counted.
However, if a resident mails his or her absentee ballot to the county clerk's office then dies before Election Day, the local election authority will not count that ballot.
"If they voted here in person and then passed away, you don't know what ballot is theirs in the machine," Korsmeyer said. "If it's mailed in, we can identify it and pull it."
The Cole County Clerk's Office is already aware of a couple of absentee ballots that will be pulled due to the voters dying between mailing their absentee ballots and Election Day, Korsmeyer said.