Union Ward 4 voters line up

Union Ward 4 voters line up outside of an East Central College building as they wait to cast their ballot Tuesday, Nov. 3.

More Than 72% Of County's Registered Voters Cast Ballots

Franklin County certified a record-breaking election Tuesday, Nov. 10.

A total of 54,008 votes were cast out of 74,219 registered voters for a voter turnout of 72.77 percent in the Nov. 3 election. County Clerk Tim Baker, who correctly predicted a 73 percent turnout, said it broke the record turnout of 71.88 percent set in 2016.

“As far as anyone recalls, that is a record number of votes,” he said.

Franklin County was ahead of the state turnout of around 70 percent.

Baker said his office started preparing for a high turnout after getting a large number of absentee ballots for the August primary.

“It takes about 300 people to put this on, and I couldn’t do it without each and every one of them,” Baker said.

The county pays all the workers, though some of them are volunteers with the Boy Scouts or a school group. In those cases, they are paid through a donation to the organization the worker represents.

The highest voter turnout in the county by percentage was at Spring Bluff, where 368 of 496 registered voters, or 74.19 percent, showed up to cast their ballots. The most voters, 2,479, came to the out-of-town polling place in St. Clair.

Of those who voted, 10,194 voted early, either in-person at the clerk’s office or through traditional absentee or mail-in voting. That made up 13.74 percent of the electorate, considered very high since Missouri requires early voters to provide an excuse for why they are unable to vote Election Day.

Some of those voted through curbside service in a designated space at the Union Police Department, across the street from the clerk’s office. This first-time service was particularly popular on the day before the election, when 125 people voted, and on Election Day, when another 50 people voted when it was set up as a polling place for people who either are COVID-19 positive or are in quarantine.

Workers collecting the ballots from COVID-19-positive voters wore masks, gloves and face shields, Baker said. To minimize contact with the voters, election workers handed them their ballot then stepped away from the car until it was ready to be picked up. The ballots were placed in a sealed bag and held in a locked room for 24 hours before being counted.

“Contact was very minimal, well under the 15 minutes the CDC recommends,” Baker said.

All the curbside ballots were counted, Baker said.

Baker expects curbside voting to return in future elections.

“I think it was a service that went very well,” he said. “We’re just very thankful to the city of Union for allowing us to have that designated spot.”

The county added another 600 voters to the list of people with permanent disabilities this year.

The county clerk said other than some confusion, the process of sending mail ballots to people who requested them went well. 

Baker said he would not want to send mail ballots out unless they are requested by voters. He said mailing ballots is costly to taxpayers and invites fraud, citing a hypothetical example of six residents of a home being sent ballots, but only one resident is interested in politics. He fills out all six ballots and sends them all in.

“I am not in favor of a total mail-in election,” he said. “If you requested the ballot, then you wanted it, and you will send it back.”

In the five states that regularly send ballots to all voters, there have been no major cases of fraud, according to the Associated Press. An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found Americans were more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.

Very few ballots of any kind were disqualified. The ones that were thrown out were because the voter was not registered, not because the ballot was marked improperly, Baker said.

“Our office did not determine that,” he said. “That was done through a bipartisan team (of election judges).”

With this month’s general election votes tallied, attention already is turning toward the local elections April 6, 2021. Officials with cities, school boards and other districts will be on the ballot.

Candidate filing for the election runs Dec. 15 trough Jan. 19. Voters can register up to six weeks before the election. Baker said he talked to many voters, encouraging them to continue the enthusiasm into the April election, which typically gets 20 to 30 percent turnout. 

Baker discontinued the practice of sending out notifications to registered voters before each election to see if they have changed addresses. He said that saved the county between $80,000 and $100,000 over four 2020 elections.

But he would like to work with schools that have text message alert systems to include a message letting parents know Election Day is approaching. He also wants to get notifications on electronic message signs similar to those at banks and at East Central College.

“We’re going to start utilizing our community partners, instead of using tax dollars,” he said.