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‘Election Insiders’ Goes Behind The Scenes With St. Louis County Elections Board

Colette Boyd finishes verifying a stack of absentee and mail-in ballots at the St. Louis County Board of Elections warehouse on July 30. 7/30/20
Kayla Drake
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Colette Boyd finishes verifying a stack of absentee and mail-in ballots at the St. Louis County Board of Elections warehouse on July 30.

From hanging-chad jokes to complaints about absentee ballots, election workers have heard it all. But there’s one question Gloria Shur Bilchik says they dislike the most: “What do you do the other 364 days of the year?”

Bilchik’s new book answers that question with eye-opening detail. And, in the final chapter, the Creve Coeur resident explains what they do on Election Day, too.

Election Insiders: Behind the Scenes With the People Who Make Your Vote Count” is the result of the 18 months Bilchik spent observing the St. Louis County Board of Elections. It is her first book, and in it, she presents St. Louis County as a microcosm of the challenges faced by election boards across the country.

Those challenges are especially acute this year, as the coronavirus continues to ravage the nation.

“I think it’s been a constantly evolving story,” Bilchik explained on St. Louis on the Air. “As of last week, they had more than 100 people cancel to be poll workers for today. This morning I’m told they started the day with 60 less people than they needed. They had to scramble the rest of the day. They were triaging the polling places.”

In addition to those cancellations, the board of elections decided last week to hire an additional 200 people, tasked with standing outside as door monitors and handing out masks to any prospective voter without one.

“The St. Louis County Board of Elections has done a really intense job of trying to put in all the protections they can,” she said. “But people are still scared. … These are just the rolling problems that COVID has caused in the election world. It’s definitely not over.”

Bilchik also discussed the board’s decision in 2019 to purchase new equipment that allows “ballots on demand” — leading to a new feature this election cycle in St. Louis County in which voters can show up at any polling station and get a ballot printed to include every race for which they’re eligible to vote.

“With COVID, and not enough people to work the polls, this year, they can allow anyone to vote at any polling place,” she said. “They can print out your ballot no matter where you live.”

Overall, Bilchik said she came away from her months of observation and research with admiration for election workers, from those running the show to the temporary workers who serve Election Day after Election Day.

“The people who do the work behind the scenes really are trying to do the job right,” she said. “They’re not just there for the paycheck. They’re certainly not there for the glory, because there is no glory involved. … They come back year after year and election after election because they love doing it. It’s a civic duty that they really enjoy performing. We need to give people credit for that.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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