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Voter registration applications rise in St. Charles County as deadline nears

Jumira Moore, 8, watches as her mother, Timira Saunders, fills out a ballot at Central Baptist Church in St. Louis on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Jumira Moore, 8, watches as her mother, Timira Saunders, fills out a ballot at Central Baptist Church in St. Louis in November 2016.

In St. Louis and St. Louis County, officials are seeing people register to vote at roughly the same rate as other midterm elections, but in St. Charles County, the head election official is seeing a surge in applications — and absentee ballots.

Potential voters in Missouri have through Wednesday to register for the Nov. 6. election. There are several ways that people can apply — including going online or filling out an application at a county election authority.

Surge in St. Charles

St. Charles Director of Elections Rich Chrimser said his office has seen a substantial uptick in voter registration applications and absentee balloting. He said he’s seeing “hundreds and hundreds” of new voter registrations in the fast-growing county, a big change from a typical midterm election.

Chrismer also said there’s been an increase in the number of people coming in to cast in-person absentee ballots as well.

“I think with the information with what’s going in Washington today and the last few weeks has generated a larger interest,” Chrismer said. “We do have issues on the ballot, but I think it’s more about hearing about elections on the national scene rather than campaign ads or signs.”

The first couple of weeks of absentee balloting have coincided with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. Observers believe the controversy over Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is stoking both the Democratic and Republican bases.

Read more: A wave of women: Missouri sees record number of female candidates

St. Charles County leans Republican, but there’s no way to know for sure if more Republicans or Democrats are signing up. That’s because voters don’t register by party in Missouri.

“Normally with midterm elections, we usually see ads and signs — and people say ‘oh, it’s time to vote, it’s time to vote,’” Chrismer said. “Well now, on the national scene, we’re giving people a reason to pay attention to this midterm election more than on average than I’ve seen in my 16 years here.”

St. Louis County normal for a midterm

Eric Fey, the Democratic director for the St. Louis County Board of Elections, said there’s an “influx” of voter registration applications right now. But he added “at this point, it does not look any greater than a normal midterm election.” He said absentee ballot activity, thus far, has also been normal.”

St. Louis County is the state’s largest election jurisdiction — and will be a crucial battleground for the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill and GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley. But many of the county and state legislative contests were decided in the August primary, which Fey said may factor into the new voter registration numbers.

“When there is, for lack of a better term, a hot local contest, those campaigns normally tend to maybe not so much drive turnout,” Fey said. “But they energize folks to come and maybe vote absentee a little earlier — or for more people to vote absentee.”

Fey said the biggest concern of St. Louis County elections officials this year is the length of the ballot. Because there are a number countywide propositions and even more judge retention elections, a voter in St. Louis County will have, at minimum, 45 things to vote for on Nov. 6. Fey is encouraging people to look over sample ballots before going to the polls.

“And we really encourage people to take a look at their sample ballot, read it over, mark it, take it with them to the polling place, and use it as a guide as they vote,” Fey said. “Because otherwise if the first time they’re seeing this stuff is on Election Day, it’s going to take them quite a while to vote that ballot.”

Increase in St. Louis

Meanwhile, St. Louis elections officials also are seeing an increase in voter registration applications — but not dramatically different than other midterm elections.

That’s the view of Gary Stoff, the Republican elections director for St. Louis. He said city elections officials are “seeing probably more than a normal midterm, but not the same magnitude of what we see for a presidential.”

One issue that Stoff and others are seeing in the city are groups dropping off large amount of voter registration applications. Stoff said some of those organizations “don’t seem to do a really good job of screening the applications.”

“We’ve received a lot of applications that are incomplete or turn out to be duplicate,” Stoff said. “So I don’t know if they’re actually contacting people or knocking on the door. One can obtain a list of registered voters, so I’m not sure what database if any they’re working off of. So I applaud the effort. I wish they maybe had been a little more attentive.”  

St. Louis is a solidly Democratic stronghold. Because of that, Stoff said most of the enthusiasm is emanating from statewide contests — especially since races for citywide or state legislative seats were effectively decided in the primary.

Stoff said that the best way to register in St. Louis is to go to the Board of Elections headquarters, 300 N Tucker Blvd., and fill out an application in person. He also said people can register at public libraries around the city.“Because they have deputy registrars," he said.

"So, if you register at a public library, it’s the same as if you came down here to register,” Stoff said. “The only difference is it has to make its way down here. But it would be effective as to the day you actually filled out the application card there at the library. Other sources are OK. But if it doesn’t get down here by the close of business on Wednesday the 10th, then the voter will be registered for future elections — but not for Nov. 6.”

For information on the deadlines for registering in Illinois, click here.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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