Blunt- Provisional voting could delay outcomes

Sunday, November 3, 2002

Missouri's new system of provisional ballots -- which goes into effect for the first time in Tuesday's general election -- could delay the outcome in the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan and Republican challenger Jim Talent.

Matt Blunt, Missouri secretary of state and the state's top elections official, estimates several thousand provisional ballots could be cast statewide. Going through all those paper ballots and determining the validity of each of those votes could take several days, which could mean delays in deciding close races such as the one between Carnahan and Talent, he said.

Under Missouri's new election law, persons whose eligibility to vote can't be determined immediately at the polls will be allowed to cast provisional ballots. The paper ballots will be sealed in special envelopes and counted separately if it is determined later that they were valid votes.

The provisional ballots allow individuals to vote only for federal and statewide candidates and on statewide issues.

Few expected

Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller said he expects few provisional ballots to be cast locally. That's because most eligibility questions can be answered with a phone call from election judges to the county clerk's office, he said.

All voters will have to show identification at the polls unless two election judges know the voter and those judges and the voter sign an affidavit.

Blunt said the new law, which he championed, should make the ballot box more accessible and help prevent voter fraud.

Miller, Cape Girardeau County's chief election officer, said voters don't have to show their voter ID cards to vote. A driver's license or any other identification showing an individual's name and address, such as a utility bill, will suffice.

Election judges have asked for voter identification in past elections but not uniformly. Now they'll be required to ask for identification even if it's their next door neighbor, Miller said.

Phil Thompson of Allenville, Mo., hasn't been asked to show identification in past elections at the Whitewater, Mo., precinct where he votes. The election judges know him and many of the other voters in that rural area of Cape Girardeau County.

Requiring identification may be "a hassle," Thompson said, but he doesn't expect it to deter voters.

Brian Smentkowski of Cape Girardeau said election judges have asked him for identification in past elections. He said requiring all voters to show identification shouldn't pose a problem since identification isn't being restricted to voter ID cards.

"Most people usually have some form of positive identification," said Smentkowski, an assistant professor of political science at Southeast Missouri State University.

The new voting provisions won't lessen turnout, election officials predict.

45 percent turnout

Blunt expects 45 percent of Missouri's voters will cast ballots on Tuesday, up slightly from the 43 percent turnout in the last non-presidential federal election in 1998. The Carnahan-Talent race should fuel much of the turnout, he said.

In Cape Girardeau County, election officials are expecting about 40 percent of the county's 49,687 registered voters to cast ballots. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Miller said November non-presidential elections typically draw about 20,000 voters to the polls as occurred in 1998.

Miller said the turnout should be about the same this year even though there are few contested races in the county and he's seen little voter enthusiasm about any of the statewide ballot issues, including one that would raise tobacco taxes.

The 157th state representative race, with a district including parts of Cape Girardeau and Perry counties and the city of Jackson, has drawn the most attention locally, Miller said.

The race is a three-way contest between Republican Scott Lipke of Jackson, Democrat Chuck Miller of Oriole, Mo., and Libertarian Timothy Doubledee of Jackson, with most of the attention focused on the two major-party candidates. Lipke had spent over $48,000 in his campaign through late October, about twice as much as his Democratic opponent.

The winner will succeed state Rep. David Schwab, R-Jackson, who is forced to retire because of term limits.

State Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, is challenged for re-election by Libertarian school teacher C. Darby Ulery in the 158th District.

In the 160th District, incumbent Republican Peter Myers of Sikeston, Mo., is challenged by Democrat Donnie Kiefer of Chaffee, Mo.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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