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Voter advocates across Missouri this week called on Gov. Mike Parson to extend provisions for expanded remote voting options made because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, proposals for the coming spring legislative session to expand voting or voter registration have so far come from Republicans and Democrats in both the state House of Representatives and Senate.

Health concerns during the pandemic prompted Parson to sign into law in June Senate Bill 631, which expanded absentee and mail-in ballot options for voters through Dec. 31, 2020.

This week, dozens of advocate groups from around the state — including the Missouri NAACP, League of Women Voters of Missouri, Missouri Faith Voices and American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri — signed onto a letter from the "Missouri Voter Protection Coalition" urging Parson to extend SB 631's expanded voting options through 2021 municipal elections.

Advocates noted Parson recently extended the state of emergency for Missouri because of the pandemic through March 31.

According to the Missouri Secretary of State's office's election calendar for next year, bond elections may be held Feb. 2 — without any other issues on those ballots. Charter cities and charter counties may have elections March 2. The general municipal election day is scheduled April 6.

Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to the general public may begin as early as mid-April, but the exact timing will depend on the availability of vaccines.

In the meantime, the state plans to focus vaccination efforts on medically or economically critical and high-risk groups of people — the latter including people over age 65, who live in a long-term care facility or who have underlying health conditions, all of whom SB 631 extended mail-in absentee voting to.

Advocates told Parson the remote voting provisions in SB 631 "are vital to ensuring safe access to voting through Missouri's upcoming municipal elections."

Advocates also wrote that Parson should use his emergency executive authority to suspend excuse-based absentee voting, "and Missouri's lawmakers should consider legislation to join the vast majority of states that provide no-excuse absentee voting to all voters."

Advocates also opposed ballot envelope provisions including notarization requirements.

Several lawsuits filed this year — including by parties who signed the letter to Parson, such as the Missouri NAACP and League of Women Voters of Missouri — sought to expand voting options and do away with notarization requirements.

As for state lawmakers' proposals on voting, legislators from both controlling political parties have already pre-filed some bills for the coming spring session that would include expanding who can vote or register to vote or would change how absentee ballots are processed.

In the Senate, Democrats Lauren Arthur, of Kansas City, and Jill Schupp, of Creve Couer, have pre-filed bills that would allow for no-excuse absentee voting — effective in August 2021 — and so has Republican Sen.-elect Elaine Gannon, of DeSoto.

Democratic Sen.-elect Angela Mosley, who will represent areas of St. Louis County in District 13, pre-filed SB 266, which would refine the absentee ballot rejection process.

In the House, Rep.-elect Chris Sander, R-Lone Jack, pre-filed HB 341, which would require the secretary of state to create an online absentee ballot tracking system, subject to appropriation, that would provide absentee by-mail voters information on whether their ballot has been received and counted or a reason why it was not counted.

Rep. Peggy McGaugh, R-Carrollton, pre-filed HB 372, which would allow the Missouri Department of Revenue to collect voter registration applications electronically through the existing voter registration system in place at the Division of Motor Vehicles and Drivers Licensing.

Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, has pre-filed legislation that would allow people on probation or parole to register to vote, and allow defendants otherwise eligible to vote but who are in jail be able to vote absentee.

Democratic representatives Yolanda Young, of Kansas City, and Raychel Proudie, of Ferguson, pre-filed bills that would require at least one electronic voting machine be at every polling location to serve blind or visually-impaired voters.

Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, also pre-filed such a bill, as well as others that would allow people to register to vote on election day, establish provisions for early voting, create automatic voter registration and create no-excuse absentee voting.

The fate of any of Price's bills seems uncertain; however, given he's been reprimanded and asked to resign after he was found to have tried to cover up an alleged sexual relation with an intern.

As for Parson's response to voter advocates' requests, the Associated Press reported the governor had not said whether he would extend the provisions of SB 631.

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