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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis-Area Voters Cast First Ballots During A Pandemic

Ferguson residents vote at Griffith Elementary School in Ferguson, Missouri. Residents voted in person for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. June 2, 2020
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson residents vote at Griffith Elementary School in Ferguson. Residents voted in person for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents across the St. Louis area came out to vote Tuesday in Missouri's first elections since officials enacted stay-at-home orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday’s municipal elections were originally scheduled for April 7. Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order in March to postpone the election to June as the virus spread across the state. 

On Tuesday, many voters wore masks and other personal protective gear and stayed socially distant from others waiting to vote.

“I guess I’m not as concerned being out here,” said Bob Watt, who voted at the St. Louis County Mid-County Library Branch in Clayton. “You start seeing the precautions, and you kind of go, 'It's a reminder that we’re living in troubled times.’”

Watt said there were few people waiting to vote at his polling place. St. Louis County election officials said a record number of voters — more than 76,000 residents — sent absentee applications back for Tuesday’s election. The absentee forms were sent out to residents over 60 because of the coronavirus. This was the first time some county residents had voted absentee.

“Many people that I talked to said that they were doing absentee,” said Carol Jackson, a Ferguson resident who was volunteering for a candidate at a polling place. “Even young people, they definitely wanted to vote, so this is a little slower, but it’s steady.”

Jackson said she also submitted an absentee ballot for this election to avoid contracting the virus. Other volunteers hope to see an expansion for absentee voting in future elections this year. 

The Missouri Legislature passed a bill that would expand absentee voting to allow anyone older than 65 and those with specific health conditions to submit an absentee ballot without notarization. The legislation would also allow those afraid of contracting the coronavirus to submit an absentee ballot as long as it is notarized. Parson said he will make a decision on expanded absentee voting legislation soon.

Peggy Foege was also volunteering for a candidate in Ferguson’s municipal election. She said that while people did come out and vote Tuesday, she hopes the state will expand mail-in voting options for future elections.

“If you think about all the things that we do through the mail — my taxes, my driver’s license — and it works well, so I don’t know why we couldn’t go to a mail,” Fogee said at Griffith Elementary School, a Ferguson poll location.

But Tuesday’s election brought in many people determined to cast a vote. Ferguson residents will elect a new mayor, and for some, choosing not to vote wasn’t an option.

“I was concerned, however, I was like, ‘I’m going to wear a mask, because nothing’s going to stop me from voting,'” said Ferguson resident Sharon Howard. “Our ancestors gave up a lot for us to have this opportunity.”

Polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.