Just how many voters will participate in the Nov. 3 presidential election remains to be seen, but county officials say more people will have the chance to vote in Franklin County than ever before.
Following the Oct. 7 voter registration deadline, Franklin County Clerk Tim Baker said the county has more than 74,000 registered voters. That’s up from 70,116 in 2016.
The 2016 number was up only 470 voters from the previous presidential election in 2012.
With the amount of voter registration information posted on social media, it was hard for people not to know it was time to register, Baker said.
“You can’t get on Twitter, Facebook or anything without seeing how to register to vote,” he said.
Voter registration appears to be up across the state.
As of Wednesday, the Secretary of State’s office reported 4,287,812 registered voters in Missouri. That number was expected to increase as local election offices processed registration applications that were received or postmarked by the deadline, but it already was up by more than 64,000 voters from 2016.
Jefferson County was projecting more than 10,000 new voters since 2016, compared with an increase of only 388 voters between the 2012 and 2016 elections, according to St. Louis Public Radio. St. Charles County was expecting 20,000 more voters to register over 2016.
Baker’s office averaged about 400 voter registration applications a day for a period, peaking around 500, he said. The office had two workers dedicated to handling the applications to make sure they were processed on time and correctly, he said.
Though voters don’t declare a party when they register in Missouri, Jordyn Wilson, Franklin County Democratic Central Committee vice chair, is seeing a great deal of interest.
“It’s hard to say how many voters are Democratic voters, but I’ve seen more requests for verifying voter registration in the last three months than I’ve seen in my entire life,” said Wilson, who has been involved in Democratic Party organizing since 2008.
Ben Brown, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee, said he would not be surprised if many of the new registrations were Republicans. He pointed to proposed mask mandates in Washington and Union, where hundreds came to city meetings in opposition, as a possible reason.
“It brought forth people from all walks of life. Some of whom had never really paid much attention to things such as who their city council member was and what was occurring at the council meetings prior,” Brown said. “These issues really illustrated the importance of being engaged politically like nothing else seen in recent history. While these issues may energize people on both sides of the issue, it was clear that in the cases of Washington and Union, it was the people favoring more conservative ideals like liberty, personal responsibility and a smaller government footprint that appeared to have an overwhelming margin of energy and support versus those that favored a more heavy-handed government approach.”
Interest in absentee voting has also been high.
As of Thursday morning, Franklin County sent out 4,687 absentee ballots, with around 1,900 returned.
Those include both ballots that can be mailed or delivered to the clerk’s office and mail-only ballots. The ballots remain sealed behind three locked doors. Baker said the law allows staff to start preparing the ballots five days before the election, but they can’t be counted until Election Day.
President Donald Trump has a high bar to clear if he wants to defeat former Vice President Joe Biden by as many votes in Franklin County as he won against Hillary Clinton in 2016. In 2016, Trump received 35,420 votes, or 70 percent, to 12,339 votes for Clinton, 24 percent.
On Trump’s victory margin, Brown said, “If I were a betting man I would take the over” compared with 2016. He points to Trump having more signs in the area.
“I just don’t see a lot of people being so enthusiastic to cast a vote for Joe Biden that it drives them to register to vote for the first time,” he said. “I am sure that there are other cities and counties where enthusiasm to vote against the president may drive people to register, but it doesn’t take more than a short drive to realize that support for President Trump in Franklin County is strong and widespread.”
Wilson disputes Brown’s claims on signs, saying the number of Biden and Trump signs in Washington is running about 50/50. In the past, the Democrats have sent out around 100 signs, but this year, Wilson has delivered around 50 herself, and several other people also are working on it.
“We’re coordinating and distributing and dropping them off at people’s homes,” she said. “But signs do not vote. They are not an excuse to be apathetic.”
Baker was at East Central College this week to train the county’s 280 election judges in groups of between 30 and 40 at a time. Including people working at the downtown Union office, around 300 people will work on the election.
The workers were shown the personal protective equipment that will be available, as well as made familiar with the voting machines and tablet computers that will be used.
Baker said 35 of the county’s 41 polling places will have a worker dedicated to cleaning.
He clarified earlier statements on what poll workers will be required to wear. He said those working at polling places that regularly require masks, like ECC and the Washington Public Library, should wear face masks or clear shields. Workers won’t be required to wear masks at buildings with no mask mandate.
Ahead of the election, Baker also sought to clarify and refute some viral posts that have been made on social media platforms, including Facebook.
One such post suggested that 50,000 ballots had gone missing in Franklin County or that a man has continued voting for his dead mother, according to Baker. He said those stories actually were reported in Franklin counties in Ohio and Florida, but the posters made it sound like they were in Missouri.
Another false rumor has been that election workers have been putting an “R” for Republican or “D” for Democrat on absentee ballots. Baker said the ballots are initialed by members of the bipartisan team, but no indication of the party of the voter is given.
Another rule Baker emphasized was that voters cannot wear any items with names or slogans for candidates or issues on the ballot. One election judge specifically asked if “Make America Great Again” items could be worn.
Baker said voters can not wear it.
“It’s a slogan; everybody knows what that means,” he said.
Baker told any election worker to call 9-1-1 if people trying to vote become unruly.