With the first election day during the COVID-19 pandemic coming Tuesday, many questions will be answered about the future of elections in Franklin County and statewide in 2020.

In Missouri, elections are the responsibility of county clerks in each of the 114 counties.

Clerk Tim Baker, who is the chief election authority in Franklin County, has been outspoken about in-person voting and feels polls here are safe despite the pandemic.

He added the alternative of mail-in voting could lead to fraud in many forms.

Fraud

One of the simplest forms of voter fraud could be mailing multiple ballots to voters living in the same residence. 

“If there are multiple registered voters at the same address, the ballots could be intercepted,” Baker explained. “In theory, one person in the household could fill out all of the ballots and essentially that person would get several votes instead of just one.”

In similar situations in other parts of the country, reports have been made of ballots being mailed to rental properties with the names of several past residents of the same apartment address on them.

“That can easily happen,” Baker said. “If that is the address we have on file for a voter, that is where a ballot will be sent. Whoever lives there now could fill out that ballot and send it back and we would never know the difference. That’s why getting ballot signatures notarized is so important.”

Baker added in a recent canvass of 74,000 registered voters in Franklin County, 10,000 notices were returned as undeliverable.

Those notices are mailed out two more times and if there is no response the voter will then be classified as inactive until they contact the clerk’s office with a new address.

“During that process of mailing notices three times there could be an election,” Baker said. “If a ballot was mailed out it could easily be intercepted.” 

A third instance of voter fraud which could occur would be during a primary when voters must declare a specific party ballot.

Baker said in some cases if the election authority was forced to put the party affiliation on the outside of an envelope, they could be intercepted as well. 

In this case, even if a ballot was sent to the proper voters, anyone along the chain of custody could see the party affiliation and simply throw the ballot out in transit to and from the voter or steal it and vote illegally.

He added Franklin County does not put party affiliation on absentee ballots currently mailed to voters.

And speaking of the mail, Baker said just last week his office received an absentee ballot from the March presidential preference primary, which had been lost in the mail for nearly three months.

“That person’s vote never counted,” Baker said. “They had no idea it was lost in the mail.”

Mail-In Success

The first and only mail-in election in county history was conducted last fall in the Sylvan Manor-Sunset Acres Sewer District. 

Residents in the small district near Catawissa voted on a tax levy increase strictly by mail to address the pressing needs for repairs on the sewer system’s lagoons that couldn’t be put on hold until this spring. 

Baker said of the 134 ballots mailed out, 60 were returned and the tax increase passed by a 52 to 8 margin at 44 percent voter response.

Each of the 134 registered voters in the sewer district (Catawissa precinct) received voting packets containing several documents.

The actual ballot had the yes or no question on it and an official county seal that can’t be duplicated with instructions on how to properly mark the ballot with any type of pen or pencil.

The packet also contained a self-addressed stamped envelope for each voter to return to the clerk’s office through the mail.

On the back of each envelope was a self-administered affidavit voters had to fill out and sign to verify their identity.

Baker added the mail-in election could be used in the future for small, specific issues affecting only one part of the county, but the cutoff as deemed by the county election authority will be 500 voters.

“There is no way we could ever do that for 64,000 registered voters,” he said. “I still believe in the system of going to the polls on Election Day.”