New Look at Polls

Voters Tuesday will be greeted by the same county election staff, but they will be behind protective Plexiglas guards. Guards like this one displayed by Franklin County Clerk Tim Baker will be in place as voters sign in and are part of the several COVID-19 safety precautions. In addition to the guards, wipes, hand sanitizer and the option to use their own pens are available to voters. The wearing of masks are optional. Missourian Photo.

A perfect storm of circumstances led to a dismal 7.3 percent voter turnout at Franklin County polls Tuesday.

The combination of few ballot choices, fear of COVID-19 and an election day moved from April 7, led to only 5,182 total ballots being cast. There are 70,216 registered voters in the county.

County Clerk Tim Baker said overall it was still a good election, just with low turnout.

“You can call it a multitude of things, but all in all I’m happy,” he said. “I think moving it really hurt us. People aren’t used to voting in June.”

Baker added there were hot spots of voting, especially in areas where voters were asked to decide propositions.

“Everything that passed or failed was by big margins,” Baker said. “Schools did well and voters in Pacific made their points. The voters who came out Tuesday were passionate about what they were voting for or against.”

With polls closing at 7 p.m., Baker said all of the counting of ballots was completed by about 9:45, which is about average.

He added peaceful protests taking place at the old courthouse Tuesday caused some election staff very minor concern, but since ballots are escorted by sheriff’s deputies, there were no problems whatsoever.

Highest/Lowest    

In addition to the hot spots Baker referred to, the overall highest turnout per capita was the city of Berger where the only mayor’s race in the county played out.

“Of the 458 registered voters in Berger, 102 cast ballots,” he said. “That’s 22.2 percent.”

The lowest precinct turnout was 2.9 percent in Villa Ridge where only 95 of the 3,206 registered voters cast ballots.

Voters in that area were limited to only Meramec Valley R-3 and Washington school board races.

Last year, the April voter turnout was 16.1 percent; 20.8 percent in 2018; 14.2 percent in 2017; 21.4 percent in 2016, the last presidential election year; and 14.8 percent in 2015.

In 2014, the April municipal election was 12.9 percent; 18.7 percent in 2013; and turnout in 2012 was 14.7 percent.

Before Tuesday, the lowest voter turnout in recent history was 8.4 percent in the August 1974 county primary election.

Trends

As county election staff now turn their attention to the Aug. 4, primary election, things learned Tuesday will be applied and enforced.

“Tuesday was a long day and all of the election staff and judges were exemplary,” Baker said. “This election provided us some tools to expand on. All of the social distancing guidelines were followed without issue.”

Baker explained food grade disinfectant will be used on booths and voting equipment in August and personal protective equipment will be provided again as well.

For the first time Tuesday, voters with children attending Franklin County schools were sent text messages to remind them to vote. This was done with the cooperation from the individual school districts and Baker looks to expand the service to all voters in the county in future elections. 

History

The highest voter turnout for any election in county history was the November 2016 election.

That year, 71 percent of Franklin County voters came out to elect a new president. In all, 29,128 county residents voted in the primary.

In March 2016, the county recorded its highest ever presidential primary voter turnout with 42 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

Contrast that to the March 2020 presidential primary with a 20.7 percent voter turnout. Of the 71,182 registered voters in the county, only 14,748 cast ballots this year.

In 2012, presidential primary voter turnout was 9.6 percent with 6,553 ballots cast in an election when the sitting president was the incumbent. There were 1,080 Democratic ballots cast and 5,436 Republican ballots, which was a mere 9.61 percent voter turnout.

However, the November 2012 presidential election voter turnout in Franklin County was 67 percent.

The highest ever August primary turnout was 2018, when 60.27 percent of the county’s 71,982 registered voters came out in an election fueled by numerous propositions and amendments, as well as a U.S. Senate race that drew national attention.