State officials take steps to reduce voting problems

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Mayor Francis Slay said his city wants to avoid "the national embarrassment" of election chaos four years ago, while across Missouri, local officials were taking similar steps to make today's voting go smoothly.

The St. Louis Board of Elections has more poll workers and more technology to help confirm whether voters are registered and where they should cast their ballots.

"They want to avoid the national embarrassment of four years ago," Slay told reporters during a news conference Monday in his office.

St. Louis was unprepared for a deluge of voters in 2000. As a result, some were turned away from the polls, and a judge ordered polls held open after their scheduled closing, a ruling swiftly overturned by an appeals court.

This year, election judges at polling sites will have handheld computers loaded with voter lists, and each site will have more than enough provisional ballots for those whose names can't be found but who believe they are registered.

Outside the city, local election planners took a lesson from that election and have added more workers and voting machines. In mid-Missouri, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren added 21 new polling places for a total of 90 voting sites.

"There is a lot of nervousness on the part of our poll workers, because they know the spotlight is on the process this time," Noren said. "A lot of people are watching. I just tell them, follow your checklists and let us know if you have a problem -- but if you follow the process, you should be OK."

Hiring students

Boone County also has trained high school students -- some under 18 and not old enough to vote -- to help voters at the wrong polling places find the right ones.

Cape Girardeau County will have 25 more machines and a few more workers, including students, said County Clerk Rodney Miller. Registration has risen since the last presidential election by about 3,000 to a little more than 50,000 voters, he said.

"I'm optimistic," Miller said. "It's going to be a wild, hectic day. If we have problems, we'll deal with it. I get tense and nervous, but it's something I know about elections. It's not a perfect science. You try to do everything as perfectly as you can."

In the Kansas City area, Jackson County will have more voting machines and extra ballots, and officials have drawn up emergency plans for "disruptive activities that might occur," although Democratic elections director Bob Nichols wouldn't go into details.

Jackson County will also have signs at polling places featuring cartoon characters named Dimples and Chad, whose motto is: "Don't leave us hanging."

St. Louis County, a separate jurisdiction from the city, also is beefing up the number of workers and voting booths. Registration there has soared from 644,126 four years ago to 686,272 now, said Judy Taylor, Democratic elections director for St. Louis County.

"We feel great about it," she said. "I think we're ready."

Besides the efforts of officials inside Missouri, outside observers also will be watching. That includes the Justice Department, which is sending monitors from its civil rights division, and organizations such as San Francisco-based Fair Election International, which said it will have observers in Boone County and the St. Louis area.

Civil rights and Democratic leaders have accused the Republican Party of hiring hundreds of poll challengers as part of an effort to suppress the black vote in St. Louis; the GOP counters that the charge is blatantly false.

More than 200 volunteer poll monitors in neon-colored vests will help the American Civil Liberties Union reach out to voters. The Republican and Democratic parties will also have hundreds of poll watchers as well as lawyers ready to act on claims of disenfranchisement.

The secretary of state's office forecasts that 63 percent of Missouri's 4.2 million registered voters will have cast ballots when polls close at 7 p.m.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: