St. Louis and St. Louis County residents who like to cast their votes on a touch-screen machine won’t find one when they go to polling places for Tuesday’s election.
Election authorities say the unusually short three-week period since the March 15 presidential primary didn’t provide enough time to reprogram and test each of the touch-screen devices without major difficulty.
So all voters in the city and county will have to use paper ballots and feed them into optical-scan machines.
Normally both optical-scan and touch-screen methods are available across the city and county.
“In theory it would have been possible to do a complete turnaround, but my staff would have been run so ragged,” said Eric Fey, Democratic director at the county Election Board. “The possibility of mistakes and the cost just begins to increase exponentially.”
He said election board workers already have rolled up $60,000 in overtime pay juggling post-election tasks after the March 15 vote and other pre-election duties leading up to Tuesday’s local elections.
Overtime, Fey said, would go significantly higher if the county tried to get all of its 1,800 or so touch-screen machines ready for another round of voting. He said the county also would have had to bring in more temporary workers than usual.
Moreover, he said, the county also would have had to spend an extra $30,000 to buy additional ballot information cartridges to put in the touch-screen machines since state law requires the ones used March 15 to be secured for 30 days.
For the same reason, the county already spent just more than $30,000 for additional memory cards used in the optical scan machines.
At the city election board, Republican elections director Gary Stoff said he doubts that the staff there would have been able to reprogram and test all the touch-screens even if work was continuing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Fey and Stoff said it takes less time to reprogram the optical scan machines because far fewer of those devices are needed because each one processes ballots cast at several voting stations at a polling place.
But across the state, the Kansas City Election Board managed to get its touch-screen machines ready. That board also offers voters the option of touch-screen and optical-scan devices and will continue to do so Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.
In St. Louis County, officials said, most voters typically use the touch-screen machines. At the March primary, Fey said, 85 percent did. In the city, Stoff said, the breakdown typically is about half and half between touch-screen and optical scan.
Normally, Fey said, it takes about four weeks — a week longer than the current three-week gap between elections — to get all the machines ready for another vote in the county.
He said about a week is needed to pick up all the voting machines from the county’s more than 430 polling places.
After that, he said, about two weeks are spent reprogramming the touch-screen cartridges with information for the next election and then to do logic and accuracy tests on each one as required by state law. Another week is needed to bring the machines back to the polls.
In the city, the process also takes about a month.
At the March 15 primary, Fey said, each county polling place had three to six touch-screen machines, one optical-scan machine and four stations at which to fill out optical-scan paper ballots. On Tuesday, he said, each polling place will have 10 to 16 paper ballot stations.
On March 15 in the city, Stoff said, at each of the 114 polling places were two touch-screen machines, one optical-scan machine and multiple stations at which to fill out optical-scan ballots. He said the city isn’t adding stations Tuesday, when turnout is expected to drop because no candidate races are on the ballot.
Voters in other area counties won’t encounter a big change in their normal voting machine set-up when they go to the polls Tuesday.
Paper ballots and optical-scan machines are the only option for typical voters in St. Charles, Lincoln, Warren and Franklin counties.
In Jefferson County, election authorities will have one touch-screen machine available at each polling place along with one to 10 stands to fill out optical-scan paper ballots.
Jeannie Goff, chief of staff in the county clerk’s office, said the office was able to reprogram its 55 touch-screen machines, far fewer than the number normally deployed in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
She said only a handful of Jefferson County voters even use touch-screen machines; at the presidential primary, the number countywide was just four.