Hufft teams up with Curbside Notary to assist Missouri mail-in voters
When state legislatures passed a law in June to expand mail-in voting access to all Missouri voters, Danielle Lehman quickly thought of how this would impact her fellow Kansas City residents. In Missouri, every mail-in ballot, and some absentee ballots, must be notarized to count. Living in a city still navigating a global pandemic, she wondered how the notary requirement would impact voters wanting to use mail-in or absentee ballots instead of voting in person this year.
“In my experience, finding a notary is not any safer than just showing up at the polls,” Danielle said. “The challenge this year specifically is just being able to have access to a notary in a safe way. I just wanted to make it easier and safer and more accessible for people to be able to get ballots notarized.”
This is where the story of Curbside Notary begins. Earlier this year, Lehman created Curbside KC, an online platform that supported more than 1,200 local restaurants during Covid-19 by providing information on takeout and delivery services. As restaurants slowly began opening back up, Lehman pivoted her focus to create Curbside Notary, a campaign partnering with some of the same local spots she had worked with through Curbside KC to use their locations as pop-up locations and host free on-site notary events for voters.
“I just reached out to a lot of folks that I have relationships with through Curbside KC and other projects who have coffee shops or other restaurants or breweries that have space where they are interested in hosting these events,” Danielle shared.
At the same time Lehman was organizing Curbside Notary, leaders at Hufft were also wondering how they could help local voters. Co-founder Matthew Hufft recalls a radio interview he heard one day that sparked the firm’s curiosity in getting involved.
“I was listening to NPR a couple months ago, and they were interviewing a politician about the requirement of notarizing ballots,” Matthew shared. “The reporter was pretty harsh on the politician, and really questioned the need for such requirements during the pandemic. The politician simply could not answer and, given the socio-economic impact of this requirement is almost all inner-city, lower-income, it really upset me.”
Our team’s original idea was to fabricate simple booths that could be donated to notaries willing to set up at various location across the city and donate their service to voters. “We were going to do it all on our own,” Matthew said, “but then came across Curbside KC. They had a better network and organizational infrastructure, and have been a great partner.”
Our fabrication team quickly got to work. A full-scale mock-up was created, modifications were made, and five booths were fabricated and delivered to sites across Kansas City serving as repeat Curbside Notary event locations.
“The booth design really reflects a typical sidewalk A-frame sign that you see everywhere,” explained Matthew. “It is very affordable, and very practical. That iconic shape and construction technique is just amplified to a larger scale, in order to fit a notary inside.” The words ‘vote’ and ‘free notary’ were each routed into a side of the booth to emphasize the importance, and process, of voting.
“When Hufft reached out and offered to fabricate these booths for us, I knew it was a great opportunity to have even more visibility in the community,” Danielle shared. “I wanted to do whatever I could to scale up the project and get as many volunteers out into the wild as possible. We now have more than 60 events scheduled through Election Day.”
Missouri is one of just a few states with notary requirements for mailed ballots, in company with Alabama, Alaska and Mississippi. State officials argue it’s a needed safeguard against voter fraud, even though evidence of voter fraud is limited, and Missouri already has additional safeguards in place. When Missourians submit their application requesting a mail-in ballot, their local election authority must confirm the voter’s address and registration before a ballot can be sent. All of this takes place, of course, in addition to voters filling and singing their ballot correctly in order to be counted.
A notary public herself, Lehman has amassed a group of more than 170 other notaries that are now volunteering with Curbside Notary. “The whole process of voting by mail relies on people like us to pay the fees to become a notary, and then volunteer our evenings and weekends and whatever other free time we have to notarize people’s ballots out of the kindness of our heart,” Danielle said.
“I think it’s incredible that so many people are willing to do that, but really unfortunate that we’re one of just a couple of states that is requiring that and is really just creating an additional obstacle for people who want to be able to vote safely,” added Danielle. “We want to do whatever we can to make sure a person’s vote – that their ballot – isn’t rejected.”
We are incredibly proud to help Danielle’s mission of making it easy and safe for voters in our community to make their voices heard. For more information about the Curbside Notary project, including a full schedule of upcoming notary events, visit curbsidenotary.org. Kansas City Magazine and The Beacon have both recently covered the Curbside Notary campaign, too.