Missouri is one of only a handful of states that prohibit early voting, leading to long lines, confusion and other obstacles at the polls. We need to protect and ensure the right of every Missourian to vote regardless of whether the person has job responsibilities, child care issues, or the country is facing a global pandemic.

The Associated Press reported public health officials estimate it will take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine to protect against the new coronavirus. Missouri’s primary is scheduled for Aug. 4, and the general election is Nov. 3. My Senate Bill 657, with an emergency clause and the governor’s signature, could be enacted prior to both these elections.

As Missourians practice social distancing and avoiding large crowds, voters should not be forced to wait in long lines on Election Day. Nearly every other state allows Americans to take advantage of a smarter, quicker and more responsive process. No-excuse absentee voting would ensure safe, strong and fair elections for every Missourian. This legislation is long overdue, but the current situation makes clear the need to modernize Missouri’s elections.

In addition to coronavirus concerns, in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, some Missourians had to wait in massive lines in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Lines were so long in some places that ballots were still being cast hours after the polls had officially closed.

Other registered voters could not vote because they were unable to wait in these long lines. Early voting or no-excuse absentee voting would address these problems while increasing voter participation.

SB 657 would allow any registered voter who is eligible to vote in a particular election to do so by absentee ballot prior to Election Day without being required to state a reason. Currently, Missourians who can’t make it to the polls can vote absentee only with one of six state-sanctioned excuses.

Such early voting is already available in a majority of states including Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. According to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, 39 states and the District of Columbia offer in-person early voting with Virginia and Delaware set to enact early voting for later in 2020 and 2022, respectively.

This legislation has support from Democratic and Republican state lawmakers, election board officials from both parties and an overwhelming majority of Missourians. The General Assembly should act now.

Lauren Arthur is currently serving her first term as Democratic state senator for District 17, which includes Liberty, Kansas City North, Gladstone, North Kansas City and Pleasant Valley. She previously served two terms in the Missouri House.

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