Election Board working to handle heavy turnout

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

Even before the pandemic hit the country in March, Jackson County Election Board co-directors Corey Dillon and Tammy Brown figured 2020 would present some unprecedented figures.

Absentee voters brave the chilly rainfall Tuesday morning to cast their votes on the Square in Independence.

Coronavirus concerns among voters have led to unprecedented absentee balloting locally, and Missouri lawmakers this year approved mail-in voting for this year only. As of last Friday morning, a couple days after the deadline to request absentee or mail-in ballots, the Election Board had processed just shy of 50,000 absentee and mail-in applications – 3,000 more than in the last three presidential elections combined.

“We realized a long time ago it was going to be a crazy election year,” Dillon said Friday, “but I don’t think we quite had this in mind.”

Election Board workers are doing “remarkably well, I think,” she said.

More than 18,000 absentee ballots had already been cast in person at Election Board offices, topping the previous two presidential elections combined. Just the previous day on Thursday, she said, they received 1,366 absentee ballots.

The Jackson County Election Board oversees voting in the county outside of Kansas City, which has its own election board.

Beyond all the earlier voting, the board also registered 244,454 voters – 4,000 more than in 2016.

The deadline in Missouri to request an absentee or mail-in ballot has passed. Absentee voters can still cast ballots in-person prior to Tuesday at 110 S. Liberty St. on the Independence Square, a block from the Election Board main office, or they can drop off their requested ballots next door, at 112 S. Liberty St. Mail-in ballots must be notarized and must be mailed back, not simply dropped off.

Unlike those who requested a mail-in ballot, absentee voters must have a reason for voting that way, and being at-risk for COVID-19 is a common reason, election officials say. 

The Missouri secretary of state’s website has a list of available notaries, and select Mid-Continent Public Library branches have notaries available by appointment. Check mymcpl.org. for information.

Those worried if their mail-in ballot won’t reach the Election Board by Tuesday can take that ballot to the U.S. post office at 301 W. Lexington Ave. just off the Independence Square, have it hand-canceled, and the Post Office will place it in the Election Board’s mailbox there. Dillon said the board is receiving hundreds of mailed ballots a day.

It’s too early to know if the notary requirement will prove to be a stumbling block for some voters, Dillon said. Under state regulations, Election Board workers can only start to process early ballots – checking for proper signatures and notaries – until Thursday. They can’t actually count such ballots until Election Day. The board has nine bipartisan teams set up to process those ballots, and Dillon said they hope to have those vote totals ready to post as soon as they’re allowed – after the polls close at 7 p.m. next Tuesday.

“We’re going to be working toward that, but you never know what’s going to happen and what the challenges will be on Election Day,” Dillon said. “Our plan is to start counting those first thing in the morning, probably before the sun comes up. We bought another tabulator, so we can have three tabulators going at the same time.”

Dillon said it’s also hard to guess whether all the earlier voting will keep Election Day lines at polling places from growing excessively long. She said election officials are planning for about 80 percent turnout locally, and while they have a few fewer polling places than other presidential elections, they’re using more larger venues such as school gymnasiums that can host multiple precincts.

“We’ve had a remarkably good group of folks who have signed up to work the polls for us,” Dillon said. “We had a recruitment campaign, and people are excited to be involved, whatever their political persuasion.

“Our hope was we could have larger venues to facilitate social distancing, in addition to the high volume of turnout. Hopefully we won’t have long lines and hour-plus waits, but we’re all doing the best we can, and we hope voters will be patient with us.”

The Kansas City Chiefs partnered with the Kansas City Election Board to make Arrowhead Stadium available for voting this year. Only voters registered in Kansas City can vote at the stadium. Eastern Jackson County voters cannot cast votes there Tuesday.