EDITORIAL: Want to vote absentee because of COVID? Here are your options.

The August and November elections will have a new twist. Because of the coronavirus, Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation allowing those concerned about going to the polls the option of voting absentee or by a new mail-in option.

“Normally, we receive between 700 to 800 absentee requests for an August election,” Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark Summers told the Southeast Missourian. “I anticipate three to four times that many (requests) this time.”

As of Friday morning, Clark Summers said her office has received 328 requests for absentee ballots. Eight in-person voted absentee.

There are seven excuses listed for voting absentee. Most require a notary. Physical incapacity or confinement because of illness (or caring for someone who is incapacitated or confined) is the notable exception. The coronavirus is the other that does not require a notary. However, there are eight reasons that qualify someone for the COVID-19 excuse: age 65 or older; live in a long-term care facility; have chronic lung disease or moderate-to-severe asthma; have serious heart conditions; are immunocompromised; have diabetes; have chronic kidney disease; or have liver disease.

Those who don’t qualify for an absentee ballot but want to avoid going to the polls on Election Day can request a new mail-in option. These ballots require a notary and must be returned by mail.

To request an absentee or mail-in ballot, visit www.capecountyelections.com or call the county clerk’s office at (573) 243-3547.

There’s been some debate across the country about how to proceed with elections during the pandemic. Each state varies in process, but local officials — in our case, the county clerk — play a seminal role in keeping elections secure.

Clark Summers, who has been the county clerk since 2007, has a track record of handling elections properly. Most recently, a tight school board race in Cape Girardeau originally had Tony Smee winning with a two-vote margin. But after tabulating all the absentee ballots and reviewing voter intent, which included a team of judges, Missy Nieveen Phegley won. Smee was gracious in defeat and praised the county clerk for ensuring the system operated appropriately.

Voting in elections is vital to our democracy. Whether a local school board race or a presidential contest, it’s critical that eligible voters educate themselves and cast their ballot. Missouri’s new system for absentee and mail-in voting only applies to the August primary and November general election. So if you’re concerned or unable to get to the polls, there are options available.