St. Louis County Election Board Packed With Absentee Voters

Aug 1, 2014

Business was brisk Friday afternoon at the St. Louis County Election Board, where lines of people – most of them elderly --  were waiting to cast an absentee ballot for Tuesday’s primaries.

The line of people waiting to sign in stretched across the lobby of the board’s headquarters in Maplewood, and the parking lot directly outside was full much of the time. Some motorists had to wait for an open space.

Voters turn out to cast absentee ballots on Friday at St. Louis County Election Board's headquarters in Maplewood
Voters turn out to cast absentee ballots on Friday at St. Louis County Election Board's headquarters in Maplewood
Credit Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio

Such heavy absentee voting before an off-year primary is rare in the St. Louis area and speaks to the likely interest in the region’s marquee contest on Tuesday’s ballot – the Democratic and Republican primaries for county executive.

Even so, Rita Days -- the county’s Democratic elections director (there’s a Republican elections director as well) – predicts that the county’s overall voter turnout may end up less than the 20 percent prediction that she forwarded to the Missouri secretary of state.

“I was being optimistic,’’ said Days, adding that she feared the county’s voter turnout could be 15 percent or lower by Tuesday. That would be far below the county’s turnout in the August 2010 primary.

August 2010 primary attracted more Republicans

In August 2010, St. Louis County figures show that 23.5 percent of its registered voters showed up at the polls, even though no local primary contest generated as much interest as this year’s county-executive race.

Most of those who turned out in August 2010 turnout were Republican, despite the county’s Democratic-leaning makeup. The reasons?

  • A GOP primary battle for state auditor;
  • Interest in Proposition C – a conservative-backed measure to bar enforcement in Missouri of many of the provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

In August 2010, about 11,000 absentee votes were cast in St. Louis County. This year, the absentee-ballot tally was 10,700, as of the close of business Thursday.

On Friday, more than 400 people had shown up to cast ballots by mid-afternoon, Days said.

Absentee balloting also will be available on Saturday at the Election Board headquarters, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The art and science of predicting voter turnout

Projecting voter turnout in a statewide primary can be a tricky business -- and one reason polls often turn out to be inaccurate.

Victory in a primary often belongs to the candidate who has been the most successful in getting his or her supporters to the polls. An energized base of backers can often knock out a poll’s predictions. (Just ask John Brunner, who many polls had predicted would win the 2012 GOP primary in Missouri for the U.S. Senate nomination. Todd Akin handily won instead.)

That uncertainty may explain why the Missouri secretary of state’s office is not issuing a prediction for next Tuesday’s primary. Instead a spokesman said that the office was simply passing on the estimates offered by local election officials around the state.

Based on those local estimates, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander’s office reported that the predicted overall statewide turnout would come to 26.9 percent. But his spokesman emphasized that the figure came from compiling the local estimates and was not Kander’s opinion.

The projections from the 116 voting jurisdictions around the state varied widely, from Knox County’s prediction of 69 percent voter turnout to Howell County’s estimate that only 9 percent of its voters will show up.

In the St. Louis area, the county’s 20 percent prediction was among the lowest. Election officials in St. Charles were estimating a turnout of 35 percent, with St. Louis offering up a projection of 25 percent. Jefferson County election officials predicted a turnout of 18.2 percent.