Study: Missouri among states most prepared for election

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Fraud, long lines, a shortage of ballots, eligible voters blocked from actually voting. The list of concerns is long in Missouri with two weeks until the Nov. 4 election.

With a high-profile governor's race and a presidential election that polls show is knotted up in Missouri, a lot is riding on the state's election system. And some are concerned about how it will perform under the strain of new voter registrations and the expected high voter turnout.

Despite fears of voting calamities, a review of national Election Day readiness by a nonpartisan research center rates Missouri as one of the six most prepared states. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law examined states' plans for ensuring ballots are properly counted, the availability of paper records for voters to verify their selections and the thoroughness of post-election audits.

That study generally praised efforts in Missouri, though it suggested that the state should establish formal procedures for verifying that all votes recorded on computerized memory cards are properly loaded to a server that tallies the selections. Currently, the procedures for doing that are up to the county clerks.

The Brennan Center review also recommended that post-election audits, which verify that votes cast by electronic machine are accurately counted, be expanded to explicitly require reviews for all types of ballots.

Deputy Secretary of State Rich Lamb said the office has urged local election authorities to make sure they have enough ballots and has distributed $2 million in grants to supplement local election authorities budgets for poll workers.

"A high turnout is both good and bad," Lamb said.

"Those long lines, after a while, they're going to start stressing out poll workers. People get frustrated," Lamb added.

Many of the voting concerns stem from the what is expected to be high turnout. The secretary of state's office said Monday that 4,127,610 people are registered to vote, although that number could rise before the election. In 2006, 4,007,174 people were registered to vote in Missouri.

Washington-based Advancement Project, which that focuses on civil and voting rights, also is raising concerns about a ballot that's loaded with candidates, proposed state constitutional measures, initiative petitions and local referendums.

Jim Freeman, staff attorney for the project, said Missouri's ballot is the longest in eight battleground states examined by the group.

"That could result in very long lines if there aren't enough privacy booths," he said.

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