The Callaway Bank is waiving notary fees for all mail-in ballots in the Nov. 3 general election, the local bank chain announced last week.
"We're not trying to take a political stance in any fashion at all — just want to help the community," said Kim Barnes, Callaway Bank president.
In Missouri, all absentee ballots and some mail-in ballots must be notarized in order to be counted. Absentee voting began Sept. 22 in Missouri. About 364,000 absentee ballots and 38,500 mail-in ballots have been requested so far, according to the Associated Press.
The Missouri Legislature this year passed a law, SB 631, allowing anyone to vote by mail, if their ballot is notarized. Lawmakers also created an exception that allowed at-risk people — those age 65 and older, living in a long-term care facility or with certain health problems — to vote absentee without having their ballot envelopes notarized. The NAACP and the League of Women Voters argued in a lawsuit that this exception should apply to all voters.
However, Friday, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled there is no constitutional right in Missouri to vote by absentee or mail-in ballot, and that requiring notarizing on those ballots is not unconstitutional.
State law requires absentee ballots to be notarized for free, but SB 631 didn't create a similar requirement for mail-in ballots.
"We had some questions from clients because they were having trouble finding a notary," Barnes said. "We just thought about it and talked about it a little bit and said that's a community service, and we have notaries available."
Barnes noted the services of a notary aren't generally expensive — waiving the fee is more about promoting access to alternative voting methods.
"We wanted to get our voice out there so people would know they have a choice and could come to us if they want to," she said. "This is a decision we can make and a message we can convey."
Barnes said if Missouri extends mail-in voting through future elections, her bank plans to continue offering free notary services for those ballots.
"As the community need exists, we try to step in and help wherever we can," she said. "If there's a need in the future to keep people safe and enable them to vote, we'd be happy to serve."
Participating Callaway Bank branches include:
Two Fulton locations (5 E Fifth St. and 1101 Business 54)
Mokane (10393 State Road C)
Two Columbia locations (3200 W. Broadway and 1600 Chapel Hill Road)
Ashland (101 W Broadway)
To request a notary appointment, call your preferred location or simply visit the bank in person.
Additionally, the Missouri Secretary of State website has rounded up a list of notaries who have volunteered to assist Missouri voters in getting their mail-in or absentee ballot envelopes notarized at no charge. That list shows no options for Callaway County but does list several notaries in nearby Audrain, Cole and Boone counties. To view and search the list, visit sos.mo.gov/elections/MailinNotary.
This is just one of several services being offered in Fulton to ensure every eligible voter has a chance to be heard.
For those who prefer to vote in person, both the Fulton NAACP and SERVE Inc. will provide rides to the polls Nov. 3.
To arrange a free ride with the NAACP, call 573-230-3488. NAACP volunteer Neal Powers is willing to drive people to the courthouse to drop off absentee ballots; he can be reached at 636-544-9985.
SERVE transportation must receive requests for rides by 3 p.m. the day prior to the election at 573-826-3939. Email [email protected] for additional information.
For more information about the difference between absentee and mail-in ballots, and how to request them, visit bit.ly/34NLEdz.
The Associated Press contributed reporting for this story.