Missouri was set for election Tuesday, then came COVID-19

Registered voters in Missouri were set to go to the polls Tuesday for the General Municipal Election. The ballots in Ozark County also included school board races and a proposed 2% local use tax that would allow the state to collect and distribute sales tax to the county from online and mail-order catalog purchases.But on March 18, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Mike Parson signed an executive order directing all municipal elections set for Tuesday to be postponed until June 2.

Missouri became one of 25 states in which executive action has been used to adjust elections in response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At this point, there’s no indication June will be any better for holding elections. But officials in a number of states have said postponement of even a few weeks will give them an opportunity to put in place plans to keep the public safe while voting. These plans in some states will include moving polling places, recruiting backup poll workers and acquiring sufficient cleaning supplies for voting sites.

Some have noted poll workers may not be as willing to serve due to health risks, which can make running an election more challenging. Moving to consolidated polling places—in which several precincts vote at the same location — or moving to vote centers — in which any voter from a jurisdiction can vote at any polling place, usually a larger facility—can reduce the total number of poll workers required.

There have been calls in some places for elections to be held mostly by mail. But making this switch will be difficult for some and impossible for others.

In several states, it would take legislation or even a constitutional amendment to allow the change. Even then, election experts say there would be costs and logistical hurdles.

Meanwhile, steps taken — or not taken — to change aspects of the voting process are being met with lawsuits from political parties and voting rights advocates.

In Ozark County, municipal election ballots will also reflect positions for three village boards in Bakersfield, Gainesville and Theodosia, the Ozark County Ambulance District and Ozark County Health Department boards and the board overseeing Public Water Supply District #1 in Theodosia.

However, an Ozark County Times report notes except for the Theodosia Village Board, the number of vacancies on those boards equals the number of candidates who have filed for those seats, and state law says elections do not have to be held in those cases. In Theodosia, because three terms are ending on the village board and only one incumbent has filed for reelection, the board will appoint two residents to fill the remaining two seats.

Terms are also coming open on the Bakersfield, Dora, Gainesville, Lutie and Thornfield school boards.

If voters approve the proposed 2% local use tax, it would mirror the existing county sales tax of 2.5%, according to the Ozark County Times report. The use tax would be added to the state sales tax of 4.225% being paid by consumers who order online or through catalogs.

Missouri collects a state sales tax from online and catalog purchases if the seller has a physical presence in the state. But, according to a 2018 US Supreme Court decision regarding what is commonly called the “Wayfair tax,” states can enact laws enabling the collection of sales taxes from e-commerce companies that do not have a physical presence in the state.

According to taxfoundation.org, as of September 2019, of the 45 states with a sales tax, Missouri and Florida were the only ones that have not enacted the Wayfair tax.

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