Editorial note: This is the second of our guest blogging, voting experience, essays. Delia is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Empirical Research in the Law at the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis. RMA.
By Delia Bailey
After getting the call from Mike that I will be joining them in New Mexico on Election Day, I headed down to the Board of Elections for St. Louis city to cast my absentee ballot Wednesday morning.
I registered to vote in Missouri in September.* I registered to vote by mailing in my application, that I obtained from the Secretary of State’s website.
In addition to providing applications in person at state agencies, Missouri will let you print out an application or will mail an application to you.
After mailing in my application, I received three pieces of official election-related mail. First, a verification notice from the City (St. Louis City is a separate county from St. Louis County — weird, I know). This notice confirmed my registration and listed my Ward and precinct numbers, as well as the location of my polling place for this election. The letter also reminded me of my HAVA obligation to provide identification when I voted, as a first time register by mail voter.
Second, a letter from Robin Carnahan herself, congratulating me on registering to vote. (Thanks Robin!) This letter also reminded me of Missouri’s “commonsense identification requirement”** and examples of acceptable forms of ID. The Election Division’s website was referenced as a place to find more examples of acceptable ID, polling place locations, and sample ballots. The letter closed by thanking me for choosing “to participate in this historic election.” I wonder what language they use to thank new registrants in local dog catcher elections?
Third, a sample ballot arrived in the mail with information on my polling location, the election date, and the various races and issues on the ballot. In addition to the Presidential election, Missouri has the seats of governor and other state-wide offices, some Congressional and state legislative seats, local offices, judicial retention questions, constitutional amendments, and propositions. It’s quite a lengthy ballot—my particular ballot included 30 questions.
Missouri allows absentee balloting with an excuse: being out of town, confinement/incapacitation, religious practice, incarceration, and working the polls. This is in addition to the UOCAVA provisions. Today was the last day to request a by-mail absentee ballot, but in-person absentee balloting takes place at the office of the local election official until 5pm on Monday.
I arrived at the office just past 9am on Wednesday morning. The local news channel was broadcasting from the lobby of the board of elections, and there was a photographer circulating as well. I was greeted by an election official, who directed me to a table with absentee ballot applications. I could see about 20 people waiting in chairs while holding completed applications, and another 10 filling out applications with me. The application allowed me to check whether I wanted to vote with touch screen or optical scan. I chose touchscreen, but got optical scan. (more on that later) After checking my sample ballot to get my ward and precinct numbers, a volunteer directed me back to the waiting area. A voter who did not bring their sample ballot or notification card was sent to a series of windows for assistance. Back in the waiting area — or holding pen — we waited to be called upstairs to vote. There were about 30 people waiting at this point, and they brought out more chairs. There wasn’t an organized system as to who was “next in line,” but the young woman in charge was doing a reasonable job of remembering who arrived when. She allowed about 10 people up to the 2nd floor for voting at a time. Someone came through with rolls of “I Voted” stickers and offered them to us, but the consensus seemed to be that we wanted to wait until after casting our ballots “to earn them.”
When my group got upstairs, we discovered yet another series of holding areas. There was the line to check in and receive your ballot, the line to “get ready to check in,” and the line to “get ready to get ready to check in.” (By the time I left, there was a fourth line to “get ready to get ready to get ready …”) There were probably 50 people upstairs waiting to vote, or actively voting, in addition to the 30 or 40 more downstairs. The numbers are sure to increase from here, as after today all absentee voting must take place in person at the one election board office for the city. It wasn’t in the least bit efficient, but most of the volunteers seemed to be handling the stress pretty well. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, even though we’d been waiting about 45 minutes at this point. Several voters expressed the need to leave and head to work, or feed the meter. But most were convinced by others in line to wait it out.
Finally we arrived in the actual board of elections absentee balloting office — up to this point we had been in hallways, lobbies, or thoroughfares. There were 10 employees behind the counter, including a technician setting up an additional computer workstation to facilitate checking in more voters! One wall was covered in boxes, mailroom style, that formed a ward x precinct grid to hold the ballots. When I checked in, the touchscreen voting was backed up, so I opted for the optical scan ballot. It was about 2 feet long, and double sided. I had my ID in hand, but wasn’t asked for it. I was directed to another room filled with cubicles to cast my ballot. It was central count optical scan. There were only about 5 people voting, with room for 5 more. It seems that people were voting faster than they were being processed.
And that’s it. It took just over an hour for the whole process. I was impressed at the size of the turnout, and although the method wasn’t the most efficient, the officials seemed to do a good job of keeping some semblance of order, and moving the lines through. I never did get my “I Voted” sticker though…
*After reading Paul’s earlier post, I checked my previous registration states … yup. Still registered in South Carolina AND California!
**Missouri’s “commonsense” voter identification requirement allows for
any state issued identification cards, state (public and private) higher
educational institution id cards, utility bills, bank statements, or any
government-issued document with the name and address of the voter. If a
voter does not possess any of these forms of ID, a ballot can still be
cast if “two supervising election judges, one from each major political
party, attest that they know you.”