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Government, Politics & Issues

As Coronavirus Surges In Missouri, Voters And Officials Prepare For An Election

The photo shows a bottle of hand sanitizer, blue pens in plastic wrap, white paper cups and Q-Tips.
Rachel Lippmann
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Hand sanitizer, single-use pens and Q-Tips are all part of the efforts by the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners to keep workers and voters safe during Tuesday's primary election.

Voters casting their ballots in person on Tuesday across the St. Louis region will find the process looks a little different because of the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Louis and St. Louis County are requiring masks at polling places, while in St. Charles County masks are “highly encouraged.” Fewer people will be able to cast votes at one time to comply with social distancing requirements and capacity limits. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes will be plentiful, as will markers indicating six-foot social distancing.

Ben Borgmeyer, St. Louis’ Democratic director of elections, outlined other steps he and his staff will be taking:

  • Plexiglas shields will separate election judges from voters.
  • The styluses used to sign the electronic poll book, and the pens used to fill out paper ballots, will be sanitized after each voter.
  • People who vote electronically will be given a Q-Tip to use on the touch screen.

St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County have all been able to hire enough election judges to operate the planned number of polling places, officials said. They are urging voters to check their polling locations, as some that were in assisted living facilities have changed, especially in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

For the first time, registered voters in St. Louis County can cast ballots in person at any polling place because ballots can be printed on-site.

“We recognize that family members who live separately may be voting together (adult children taking their elderly parents to vote), and that there may be longer lines at some polling places than others,” the county’s Board of Elections wrote in a statement. “For their convenience and safety, the Board of Elections wanted to provide the flexibility to voters to vote at the St. Louis County polling place most convenient to them and the flexibility to go to an alternate polling site if there are long lines at their assigned location."

The counties are also prepared to count a record number of absentee ballots.

On the ballot

Statewide, the largest issue is a possible expansion of Medicaid, the government health insurance program. Right now, Missouri has some of the strictest eligibility requirements; it’s estimated that up to 250,000 people would gain coverage if expansion is approved. The constitutional amendment needs a simple majority to pass.

St. Louis County voters will pick the Democratic candidate for St. Louis County executive. Sam Page, who was appointed to the role after Steve Stenger resigned in 2019, faces businessman Mark Mantovani, County Assessor Jake Zimmerman and University City resident Jamie Tolliver.

County voters will also decide whether to make a number of changes to the county’s charter, including adding gender-neutral language and new job descriptions for a number of department heads, as well as decreasing the number of signatures needed to start a recall of countywide elected officials.

An image of two Black women, wearing face masks, sitting behind plastic shields. They are looking at iPads
Rachel Lippmann
Poll workers in St. Louis will sit behind plexiglass shields in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

In St. Louis, the marquee race is for circuit attorney. Incumbent Kim Gardner, the first Black person elected to the office, is seeking a second term against Mary Pat Carl, a former assistant circuit attorney who now works at Husch Blackwell. Both women are running on themes of criminal justice reform.

St. Louis voters will also choose the Democratic nominee for city treasurer and a number of state House and Senate races. Many of those candidates face no or minimal opposition in November.

In St. Charles County, voters will consider whether to allow the community college district to issue $30 million in bonds for building upgrades. The borrowing would not require a tax increase.

At the federal level, Cori Bush is hoping to oust longtime U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay. Clay beat Bush by 20 percentage points in 2018, but Bush has gained name recognition and has been able to advertise more this time because of increased fundraising.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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