The Kansas City Star, Nov. 4

Sonji Black wavered between voting by mail prior to Tuesday’s election in Missouri or casting her ballot in person on Election Day.

A registered nurse from Kansas City, Black treats COVID-19 patients. Her schedule is hectic, and it’s “hard to get off work,” she told The Star Editorial Board. So, Black eventually requested a mail-in ballot.

In Missouri, non-absentee voters are required to have the envelopes for their mail-in ballots notarized.

The notary who signed off on Black’s paperwork used the wrong date. Black tried to alert the notary but was reassured her vote would count.

“But I wasn’t satisfied,” she said.

After a phone call to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, the situation eventually was rectified. Black requested a new envelope and dropped the ballot in the mail.

“It was an honest mistake,” she said. “It all worked out.”

But there’s no reason that voting in Missouri should be this complicated. Once all the votes are counted this week, state officials from both parties must commit to updating and simplifying Missouri’s voting laws before the next election.

For too long, discussions about advanced voting requirements have gone nowhere as elected officials hemmed and hawed, making excuses and throwing up roadblocks. And, so even in the midst of a pandemic, voting remained unnecessarily difficult in the state.

Any registered voter can request a mail-in ballot. But those who want an absentee ballot must provide one of seven acceptable excuses.

Absentee ballots may be returned in person, but that’s not an option for mail-in ballots. A notary is required for some absentee ballots, but not for others.

Confused yet?

Election officials’ unwillingness to simplify the state’s antiquated early-voting process and clear the way for more Missourians to vote is inexcusable.

As Black can attest, all the unnecessary obstacles cause confusion — and could be a deterrent to those who don’t have the time or inclination to unravel the many complexities of the process.

“When you’re just a lay person you don’t know what you don’t know,” Black said. “It was a harrowing experience. I just wanted to cast my vote. We need a simple process.”

Kansas City’s attempt to offer curbside voting Tuesday was a disorganized disaster — ”a hot mess” as the director of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition described it — and just one more example of all that’s wrong with voting in this state.

Voting should be easy and safe. Missouri officials must embrace the concept of no-excuse early voting. And residents should be allowed to vote at any polling site within their jurisdiction.

No-excuse advanced voting “would go a long way in solving some of the problems,” Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon said.

In Kansas, where no-excuse early voting is allowed, advanced ballots were cast everywhere from shopping malls to local election board offices. While the process in Kansas isn’t perfect, it could provide Missouri with a template.

Missouri is one of only 16 states that require voters to provide an excuse for why they will not be able to vote on Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., offer no-excuse absentee or mail-in voting.

Elections in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington state are conducted strictly by mail. Voters automatically receive a ballot without request. In the other 29 states and D.C., absentee mail ballots are available — no excuses required.

Missouri election officials must eliminate the excuse and notary requirements, as well as other barriers to early voting.

There’s no reason our state can’t do what the vast majority of states have already done and actually encourage voting. Missouri can and must do better.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 8

With the pandemic so often reduced to a numbers game — how many cases, how many hospitalized, how many dead — it’s easy to forget the human equation. A group of St. Louis-area doctors and other health care workers recently tried to drive that part home, laying out in real-life terms the danger this region faces as coronavirus cases mount. It’s a jolting narrative. Citizens should listen.

In a news conference late last month, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported a seven-day average of 360 coronavirus victims hospitalized in the metro area, with more than 50 new admissions daily. At the time, it was the highest rate of new hospitalizations in the region since April, with experts predicting it would rise further. They were right. The Post-Dispatch’s Blythe Bernhard reported last week that the numbers now sit at 487 hospitalizations and 69 daily admissions.

The issue isn’t just the coronavirus patients themselves but the medical resources those patients are using. “Think about what this means to you and your family member if you get sick,” Dr. Alex Garza, who heads the task force, told journalists on Oct. 26. “Will there be a hospital to be able to care for you? Will they have space for your family member? Will the doctors, and the nurses, and the techs be on top of their game, or will they be exhausted and fatigued?”

As the Post-Dispatch’s Annika Merrilees reported, this isn’t some theoretical worst-case scenario from the distant future but rather a looming issue right now. St. Louis-area hospitals are at around 90% capacity, in part because of patient transfers from overwhelmed rural areas.

“We’re starting to see our resources being depleted, whether it’s nursing labor, physician labor, the bed capacity in our hospitals,” said Dr. Aamina Akhtar, infectious disease specialist at Mercy Hospital South. “We’re scared of what’s coming.” Already, some hospitals are limiting elective procedures.

“I think we’re all concerned about the potential to have enough (coronavirus) cases that reducing elective care is not enough,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, chief clinical officer at Barnes Jewish Hospital.

The point wasn’t to dismay or scare people but to implore the public to start consistently doing the two simple things that could have already saved untold thousands of lives had they been taken seriously sooner: practice social distancing and wear masks in public.

“I don’t understand why it is so hard to sacrifice, to wear a mask, if it can save somebody else like my mother,” was the tearful testimony from Jennifer Duffey, whose mother died from the virus in September. “Our ask of you is to please wear a mask, and be careful … be patient with the sacrifices we all have to make.”

With cooler weather and holiday gatherings upon us, area residents should heed this heart-rending plea.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Nov. 8

Jefferson City has graciously agreed to return the Civil War marker to the Missouri chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The marker was given to the city by the UDC back in 1933, but some city residents pressured the Jefferson City Council to remove it recently.

Perhaps this will end the controversy that suddenly reared up 87 years after the donation of a marker that most city residents never knew existed.

It was a marker with a seemingly innocuous inscription: “Deciding against attack, the Confederate Army under Gen. Sterling Price turned from Jefferson City, October 7, 1864.”

But, in a year when Black Lives Matter rose to the forefront of our society, it was much more.

Opponents of the marker correctly argued the donor of the marker had an agenda beyond simply preserving history. UDC has glorified Confederate soldiers and the Southern cause. Yes, the Southern cause was about states’ rights. But it was specifically about one of those “rights” — slavery.

So it’s understandable why the city, especially in the light of our society’s evolved views of civil rights, would object to keeping a gift from an organization that once was involved in building monuments to commemorate the Ku Klux Klan.

Opponents also argued the one-sentence, factual inscription has led to the myth that Price declined to attack Union forces in the city because of his love for our city.

We don’t believe the inscription implies this, just as we don’t believe the myth itself. Documented history shows Price himself avoided conflict because he wrongly believed his troops were outnumbered here. Was his “love of Jefferson City” an outlying factor in his decision? Perhaps, but there’s no such proof.

The bottom line is that, rather than blindly submitting to today’s cancel culture, we should strive to preserve our history — the good, the bad and the ugly. The key is to do so while putting everything in its proper perspective.

A remade marker with a new inscription could have given a more complete picture of this snapshot in history. In lieu of that, we need to take it for what it is.

Perhaps the ending of this chapter in history is appropriate. The marker won’t be publicly displayed in Jefferson City, but it won’t be lost to history either. UDC plans to place it at the Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery in St. Louis. Meanwhile, former City Council member Edith Vogel will privately display a replica on her property, which served as Camp Lillie during the Civil War.