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Long Lines Shrink Over Election Day; St. Louis-Region Turnout May Yet Break Records

Updated at 7:20 p.m., Nov. 3, 2020 with more comments from voters:

Election agencies across the region are reporting high in-person voter turnout.

Eric Fey, democratic director of the Board of Election commissioners of St. Louis County, said poll workers fielded long lines this morning, but those have dissipated throughout the day.

More than 200,000 St. Louis County voters had cast their ballots by early afternoon. Fey said that’s on top of about 230,000 absentee and mail-in ballots.

Before today, he anticipated that total turnout would be between 525,000 and 550,000 votes, but he said that could easily change by the end of the day.

“It’s been a very strong turnout. If it continues on this path, it could be record setting,” he said.

Fey said things have been running fairly smoothly so far, despite a lot of new changes. For one, St. Louis County residents are allowed to vote at any polling location. That excludes people who are quarantining for the coronavirus, who must go through a drive-up line at the county Board of Elections headquarters in St. Ann which is staffing health care workers.

Fey said election judges have also processed more than 25 requests to help patients in hospitals vote Tuesday.

Election officials in the City of St. Louis did not return calls seeking comment.

In Jefferson County, Elections Clerk Ken Waller said there was a big rush to the polls this morning. Lines leveled off in the afternoon, though he's expecting another rush after people get off work.

More than 64,000 people in the county have voted in-person today, on top of around 30,000 absentee and mail-in ballots.

“We’re going to see record turnout, I don’t have any doubt about it,” he said.

Waller said things have been going pretty well, but there have been some issues with people wearing Trump and Biden paraphernalia into the polls, which is not allowed.

Curbside voting

St. Louis County and St. Charles County election authorities collaborated with their respective health departments to offer curbside voting to people who either have the coronavirus or have been exposed.

Around 300 people voted curbside as of 3 p.m. at St. Charles County Headquarters in St. Peters, including Emily Connelly. Her husband tested positive after the absentee deadline.

Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
(From left) Election judge Robert McAvoy and Maggie Winkel, an epidemiologist for St. Charles County Health Department, help a county resident cast a ballot at the St. Charles County Board of Elections in St. Peters.

The couple sat in a line that spanned multiple blocks for over four hours to vote. Their gas tank was on “E” by the time they voted.

“No communication, no signs. People are cutting in front of people… this just was not organized,” she said.

Kurt Bahr, director of elections for St. Charles County, said the recent spike in coronavirus cases in the region brought out more curbside voters than he expected.

“The headquarters is not a polling place. And so everybody votes elsewhere other than here. We are the polling place of last resort,” he said.

Health department employees and election judges dress in gowns, masks and face shields to help people cast their ballots.
A coalition of 1,400 attorneys and volunteers are working statewide through an Election Protection effort to help resolve issues at the polls.

The group received nearly 1,100 reports from voters by 4:30 p.m., with about a third of those reports coming from St. Louis. The coalition said most of the requests they’ve gotten are coming from people who tested positive for COVID-19 and need help figuring out how to vote.

Thomas Silverstein, an attorney working with the coalition, said the reports also show Black communities in north St. Louis are disproportionately facing longer lines at the polls.

Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
Gabriele Griffiths, a retired Army Colonel and poll worker, stands near an exit on Hwy 70 to help direct traffic during a surge in demand for curbside voting at St. Charles County Board of Elections in St. Peters.

“Among the reports of long lines in St. Louis that we received, not one was from a neighborhood or census tract that wasn’t majority Black. And the majority were from census tracts that were more than 90% Black.”

Other voters reported issues with voter intimidation, including one that cited a caravan of Trump supporters in trucks referencing the Proud Boys. Another cited expanded police presence in north St. Louis County.

But by early evening, some Black voters in north St. Louis said lines were manageable or nonexistent.

Fredrick Scott, who voted at Friendly Temple Church on Martin Luther King Drive after getting off work early, said he was surprised to see no line when he voted around 5 p.m. He said poll workers told him there hadn’t been long lines since the morning.

At Metro Academic and Classical High School in St. Louis’ Grand Center neighborhood, Renita Conway said she originally planned to vote earlier in the day but waited after she heard reports of long wait times.

When she got to the polls after 5 p.m., she was surprised by the short line.

“It’s definitely different than any other (election) that I’ve seen. It’s political, it’s financial, it’s, of course, corona-driven. I thought that there were lines pretty much everywhere, because we saw the news right before we left,” she said.

Original story:

Long lines snaked around polling places across the St. Louis region early Tuesday morning, with some people reporting waiting for nearly two hours to vote in the general election, topped by the presidential race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

St. Louis Public Radio reporters saw lines of hundreds of people just after polls opened in St. Louis and St. Louis County:

Voters in line at Central Library in downtown St. Louis tweeted pictures of the line wrapped around the building:

Some voters waiting in lines in St. Louis County said they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of sending a mail-in ballot and arranged their day to vote the old- fashioned way. Steve Henderson, a 72-year-old Wildwood resident, waited in line while sitting on his walker. He said he doesn't trust the mail-in system.

“I don’t want to go through all this and find out my name ended up in the trash bin," he said. "I’m just glad we live in America where we have the freedom and incentive to vote. I wouldn’t miss this at all unless I was in a bed and couldn’t get out.”

15-year-old poll worker Seja Saravanan helped pass out pens and remind people to socially distance in line at Wildwood City Hall. She said she found out from the social media platform TikTok that she could volunteer as a teenager, though poll workers have to be 18 to be paid.

“I just thought this was like a chance for me to get involved for my country, even if I can’t vote. There’s no age limit to helping out," she said. Saravanan said people in line have been friendly, not frustrated, despite the fact that many waited in line for two hours to cast their ballot.

Those long lines began to thin at many polling places after the first few hours of voting. By 8 a.m., the line at Schlafly Library, in the Central West End, was half of what it was at 6 a.m.

Bill Fox said he expected longer lines. It took him 40 minutes from parking his car around 8 a.m. to leaving the voting center at the VFW 2593 in Arnold. “All the crazy commercials can stop now," he said.

Election officials expect statewide turnout to hit 75% of the state’s 4.3 million registered voters, which would be the highest percentage since 1992 when Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidency.

Many people have already voted in an effort to avoid large crowds at polling places as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the St. Louis area.

As of Sunday, nearly 828,000 Missourians had returned absentee or mail-in ballots. That’s more than three times the absentee ballots cast four years ago during the last presidential election.

Theo R. Welling | St. Louis Public Radio
Democratic nominee for Missouri's 1st congressional district, Cori Bush, votes at Gambrinus Hall in South St. Louis on Election Day Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Voters are turning out for a number of key races, including the run for governor, in which Republican Gov. Mike Parson is facing off with Democratic challenger Nicole Galloway.

Cori Bush, Democratic nominee for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, cast her ballot before 8 a.m. She’s all but guaranteed to win the race, making history as the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress.

Polls are open until 7 p.m., but anyone still in line at that time will be allowed to cast their ballot. Voters in St. Louis County can use this tool to check wait times at polling stations.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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