County clerk busy with vote preparation

Monday, November 1, 2004

By the time many Cape Girardeau County voters begin to line up Tuesday morning to cast their ballots, County Clerk Rodney Miller and his staff will already have put in several hours on the job. Like county clerks throughout the country, Miller and his staff have been working long days for most of the week preceding Election Day.

On the ground floor of the Cape Girardeau County Administration Building is a room that holds nothing but overflowing cabinets full of election supplies and a few tables. Cardboard boxes are lined up on the tables waiting to be filled with the supplies. Along the back wall are columns of metal cases, stacked a good five feet high, that will hold the completed ballots that election judges will bring back for counting Tuesday night.

Miller has been focusing on getting all those supplies ready for the election judges to use.

"We have to have instructions, signs, pencils, pens -- 30 to 40 things go into the supply box," Miller said. "That's what it's all about -- preparing things to go in the boxes, putting it all together."

All the while he is getting ready for the election, he still has to run his office. He will continue to count absentee ballots right up to Eection Day. Voters will come in to register to vote, although it's too late to register for this election, or to change their address on their registration. Miller and his staff also print up the files and rosters for the judges to use and make last-minute changes in the registry.

"This is a big election," Miller said. "We're constantly busy."

Today, four big U-Haul trucks will carry the voting booths, tables, chairs and other equipment out to the 35 precincts. A staff of workers will set up the booths and connect the new computer equipment that scans and accepts the ballots. Workers will set up 374 booths, 135 more booths than were ever needed before, Miller said.

The election will cost the county over $50,000, Miller said.

Some changes will help voters to complete their ballots. In previous elections, if a voter changed address and did not notify the county clerk by the fourth week before the election, he couldn't vote.

"Now if you are on the books and at the wrong address, we get you to the right precinct so you can vote," Miller said.

Miller has hired 16 high school students for Election Day and equipped them with Palm Pilots so they can work as registration clerks, guiding voters to the right precincts.

"Within the last month, we have brought in 2,000 new voters and probably another 2,000 people changing their address," Miller said. "Plus, we've also voted right now about 2,200 absentee ballots."

Miller has already assembled and trained the 160 election judges scheduled to work that day, and hopes that no one cancels at the last minute. Judges are hard to find.

The law requires precincts to have five judges: two Republicans, two Democrats and a fifth judge. Miller said in some precincts he will use Libertarian judges for that fifth spot. Otherwise he'll use whomever he can find. Each political party provides a list of possible judges, but Miller said he has learned to add people as he finds them.

"We use a lot of the same people," he said, "but everybody is getting older."

Most judges are retired people who have the time to give, he said. They too put in a long day.

"Judges work from 5:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.," Miller said. "A lot of them will get out about 8 p.m., and some don't get home until 9:30 or 10. They've been up 15 to 17 hours."

They're paid $80 for the day; $90 if they're supervisors. They bring their own food, although they often don't have time to break for lunch or dinner.

It's a long hard day but most judges seem to enjoy it, Miller said. Most judges work the same precincts every election and get to know the people who come in to vote.

"I always have to remind them they can't talk too much, they're holding up the line," Miller said.

On Tuesday, Miller's day will start around 3:30 a.m. Voting begins at 6 will end at 7 p.m., and Miller said he expects all the ballots to be counted by 10 p.m.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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