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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday sent a lawsuit seeking widespread absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic back to a lower court for review.

Judges ruled that Cole County Circuit Court Jon Beetem was wrong to dismiss the case and made a mistake by weighing in on the merits of the lawsuit at that stage.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for further review.

At issue is how voting will work this year as public health officials urge people to social distance to avoid spreading COVID-19.

Under a new law, people considered at-risk of the coronavirus -- those age 65 and older, living in a long-term care facility or with certain existing health problems -- can vote absentee without needing to have their ballot notarized this year.

Anyone else can cast a mail-in ballot but would need to get it notarized. An executive order allows virtual notarization through the August primary.

But civil rights groups say that's not enough to protect voting rights during the pandemic.

The ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition sued, arguing everyone should be allowed to vote absentee without a notary.

Supreme Court judges didn't weigh in on that argument.

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