Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced on Wednesday, March 18 that the state’s April 7 Municipal Elections would be postponed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Crawford County Clerk John Martin’s first response to the Executive Order was, “I consider this an unlawful order, and so far, am continuing as stated. If I change my mind, I'll let you know.”
Although Martin initially stated the April 7 election would continue as planned in spite of the directive from Governor Parson to move it to June 2, he quickly changed that decision, and by the end of the day, issued a release stating the Crawford County elections would also be postponed.
At the Crawford County Commission meeting held on Tuesday, March 17, Martin stated, “The April 7 election is going as planned, taking as many precautions there as necessary.” He reported plans to provide gloves for poll workers, and have sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on hand. His feeling was that there was less of an opportunity to stand in line to vote than when shopping at local grocery stores.
Martin said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has even offered guidelines on how to hold a safe election, and pointed to the constitution’s mandates to hold elections.
Crawford County Health Department Administrator Honor Evans asked if he would be encouraging absentee voting, and Martin replied, “Yes. But they must follow the directions.”
“I see no reason to panic,” Martin stated. “We’re moving on with business as usual with some minor precautions.”
Martin maintained that position even in the face of the governor’s directive, but quickly changed direction, and by the end of the day on Wednesday, Martin provided a press release to explain his decision-making process and to inform the public of the change in the election date.
In his release, Martin stated, “This morning, my office received Governor Mike Parson’s Executive Order 20-02, which ordered all 2020 Missouri Municipal Elections originally scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, 2020 to be postponed until Tuesday, June 2, 2020. As the Local Election Authority, I had several legal issues to investigate before acceding to the order. Because of this, I remained steadfast in keeping the April 7 election date intact until further information could be garnered.
“I immediately posed my questions to the county prosecutor, who would have a hand in any court proceedings regarding this matter. While the prosecutor performed the necessary legal research, I spoke directly with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft multiple times. I outlined my concerns, both legal and logistical, in moving the election, and the fact that some surrounding counties were of the same mind in keeping the April 7 date.
“Following Mr. (Dave) Smith’s (county attorney) research and my discussions with Secretary Ashcroft, I have received all of the information I needed to make a completely informed and responsible decision regarding our election process. As such, in accordance with Governor Parson’s order, Crawford County’s April 7 Municipal Election will be postponed until Tuesday, June 2.”
Martin’s release then referred to information from the Governor’s press release on the subject (found below) and noted that all polling locations assigned in past elections will be open for the June 2 election.
Martin added, “I have already taken measures to aid in ‘social distancing’ at the polls, but I urge voters to be as responsible in their actions as they would when visiting the grocery store. Voting should not take nearly as long as shopping does, so please educate yourselves on ballot candidates and issues ahead of time. This will cut down on the actual time spent voting, thereby limiting your time in public.”
Martin also recommended those with concerns over the postponement of the April 7 election contact the office of the Missouri Secretary of State at 573-751-4936.
The press release from the Governor’s office reported the decision to postpone the April election was made in connection to the Governor’s Executive Order 20-02 declaring a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 and to a request from Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. Governor Parson signed Executive Order 20-03 ordering all Missouri municipal elections previously scheduled for April 7, 2020, to be postponed to June 2, 2020.
The Executive Order declares that ballots already printed for the April 7 election may be used at the postponed date of June 2. Voters who have attained the age of 18 by April 7 will be allowed to cast a ballot.
“Given the growing concern surrounding COVID-19 and the large number of people elections attract, postponing Missouri’s municipal elections is a necessary step to help combat the spread of the virus and protect the health and safety of Missouri voters,” Governor Parson said. “Postponing an election is not easy, but we are all in this together. We are thankful to Secretary Ashcroft and our 116 election authorities for their leadership, cooperation, and commitment to doing what is best for their communities during this time.”
“I deeply appreciate Governor Parson’s quick approval and am thankful to the local election authorities—your county clerks and boards of election—who have worked through developing health concerns to find a unified and secure means of implementing our next election,” Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said. “Missouri has 116 separate election authorities, almost all who are elected in their own right, and we have come together to help protect Missouri voters. These are difficult times, but I am grateful for how we have responded, worked together and come to a resolution that helps every single Missouri voter.”
Section 44.100, RSMo, provides that during a state of emergency, the Governor is authorized to “waive or suspend the operation of any statutory requirement or administrative rule prescribing procedures for conducting state business, where strict compliance with such requirements and rules would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action by the department of health and senior services to respond to a declared emergency or increased health threat to the population.”
The Executive Order requires local election authorities to publish notice of the June 2 election as required in Section 115.127.2, RSMo. In addition, the Executive Order states:
•The closing date to register to vote in this election remains March 11.
•The deadline for filing as a write-in candidate for office remains March 27 at 5 p.m.
•The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot (Section 115.279, RSMo) shall be May 20.
•A public test of voting equipment shall be completed no later than June 1.
•In-person absentee ballots may be cast until 5 p.m. on June 1.
•The deadline by which absentee ballots must be received by the election authority (Section 115.293.1, RSMo) shall be 7 p.m. on June 2.
•Military and overseas voters must request a ballot from an election authority by 5 p.m. on May 29, and the deadline for local election authorities to make ballots available to such voters is April 18. Military and overseas ballots must be received by the election authority by June 5.
Local election authorities are also directed to post information on their website, use social media if available, issue press release, conduct public appearances, and directly contact stakeholders such as candidates.