In what can be described as the most unconventional election cycle in Franklin County history, Clerk Tim Baker said voter turnout next Tuesday is really anybody’s guess.
Despite a raging pandemic, changes to absentee ballot rules and lackluster ballot items, Baker predicts 26 percent (18,710) of Franklin County’s 71,962 registered voters will cast ballots next Tuesday.
Historically, since 2004, the highest voter turnout for a primary election was 46 percent and the lowest was 22 percent.
Baker said the lack of county races might be subsidized by the Medicaid expansion question and statewide primary races, including Missouri governor.
“If you live in the Second District, there is a highly contested race,” Baker said. “Other than that, the only countywide race is for municipal judge.”
Baker said the Medicaid expansion question may draw out voters, but given COVID-19 even that may not be enough to reach his predicted turnout.
Franklin County has 41 polling places staffed by 196 election workers.
“We are blessed to have all of our polls open and the manpower to run them,” Baker said. “I don’t expect the polls to be that busy, but it’s really hard to say on anything. It could be pouring rain on Election Day or it could be gorgeous and sunny. I’ve been here a short time and I’ve yet to have a normal election, and I’m sure it’s going to be four times crazier in November.”
In June, Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 631, which opened the parameters for absentee voting due to the ongoing pandemic.
Some absentee voters will be required to have their ballots notarized before mailing them back in.
Others will be exempt from the extra step of notarization, but county clerks across the state have no way of telling the difference.
Baker said lifting the restrictions and not requiring voter signatures to be notarized in certain cases has increased absentee ballot requests in recent weeks.
“In the 2018 primary election there were 1,419 absentee ballot requests,” Baker said. “This year we sent out 2,334.”
As he has stated in the past, election staff has no way of confirming if the non-notarized ballots were cast by the actual person who requested it, or if they truly fit the criteria.
“It’s all done on the honor system,” Baker said. “As of today, we’ve already received 695 absentee ballots back. Bipartisan election judges will begin preparing (not opening) them for counting on Friday.”
Baker reminds residents they can vote absentee in the clerk’s office in Union until Aug. 3 at 5 p.m. if they do not feel comfortable going to the polls next week.
As was the case in June, the wearing of masks in polling places by staff and voters is personal choice.
Baker stressed masks, as well as hand sanitizer and other cleaning items, will be available for everyone. There will also be Plexiglas screens separating voters and election staff.
“Staff will be using a sanitizing spray on equipment after every voter instead of wiping them down every time,” Baker said. “Voters will be asked to sign iPads with their finger or they can bring their own stylus and pens for voting.”