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Voters head to the polls today as Missouri turnout expected to hit 75%
ELECTION DAY 2020

Voters head to the polls today as Missouri turnout expected to hit 75%

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ST. LOUIS — Election agencies across Missouri expect the overall turnout percentage for Tuesday’s election to hit 75%, the largest since 1992 when Bill Clinton unseated President George H.W. Bush.

The Missouri secretary of state’s office said local election offices project that more than 3.2 million of the state’s 4.3 million registered voters will take part in the balloting, topped by the contest between President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden.

As of Sunday, 827,928 Missourians had submitted absentee and mail-in ballots, more than three times the absentee votes cast statewide at the last presidential election in 2016.

The number has zoomed upward amid coronavirus-fueled concern about facing crowded Election Day polling places. Many more voted absentee in person on Monday, with long lines reported outside some local voting sites.

That included a new parking lane begun Monday outside St. Louis Election Board headquarters set aside specifically for absentee voters who have tested positive for COVID-19 but who didn’t use the mail option.

Gary Stoff, the board’s Republican director, said the board decided to begin the special curbside lane on Locust Street after getting inquiries last week. “We’ve had more than 100” vote that way, Stoff said.

On Tuesday, polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. across the metro area and the rest of Missouri and Illinois.

In Missouri, voters will decide high-spending races for governor and the 2nd District U.S. House seat, along with contests for four other statewide offices, St. Louis County executive, a host of state legislative seats and various ballot issues.

The Illinois ballot features a big-spending race for a multicounty Congressional seat that includes part of Madison County, a contentious state tax-related proposition and numerous other contests.

Protecting voters, poll workers

Varying steps have been taken by election agencies across the area to protect voters and poll workers from COVID-19, with frequent wiping down of voting equipment and social distancing floor markings among common features.

Although this is the fourth Missouri election since the outbreak began last winter, not all voters will be familiar with polling place changes instituted to deal with it.

“In a presidential election, you always get the once-every-four-years voter,” said Eric Fey, Democratic director of elections for St. Louis County.

As in the August primary, St. Louis and St. Louis County officials are taking different approaches to applying mandatory mask orders imposed last summer for indoor public places by Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Sam Page.

In the county, all voters and election workers will be required to follow the mask rule. If a voter cannot comply for medical reasons, he or she can vote curbside from their vehicle.

But unlike in August, the county won’t allow other people who refuse to wear masks to vote curbside. That was allowed in August on a hit-or-miss basis across the county, Fey said. Instead, they will be directed to go to a tentlike space outside the Election Board office in St. Ann.

In St. Louis, voters who can’t or won’t wear a mask will be given the curbside vehicle option.

“If they’re very adamant” about refusing to do that, Stoff said, they’ll be allowed to vote inside but in an area set apart from other voters.

Election agencies in Illinois will follow a similar policy for voters not complying with a mask rule there, said Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections.

In St. Charles County, all poll workers in effect will be required to wear face coverings or shields under a change in policy, Elections Director Kurt Bahr said Monday.

Bahr said he is following the intent of executive orders regarding county employees issued by the county executive.

The only exception, Bahr said, will be workers who are behind plexiglass and not within six feet of someone else — a situation that Bahr said will be highly unlikely on Tuesday. Voters will be encouraged but not required to wear masks.

The same is true for voters in Jefferson County, whose Clerk Ken Waller has asked but not required poll workers to don masks.

In St. Louis County, voters can use a new app that allows them to determine how long a wait they’ll face at their neighborhood polling place.

“It’s been working so far” at absentee voting sites, Fey said. “We’re going to give it a go on Election Day.”

And, as it did for the first time in August, the St. Louis County board will allow residents to vote at any polling place across the county, not just at the one assigned to their home address.

Long lines Monday

Among those waiting to vote absentee in person Monday at the county board office was Margaret Morrow, who was making her second attempt after encountering a long line there a few days earlier.

The line on Monday was only a little shorter — but it was moving at a brisk pace, and the sun was shining.

“I decided I’d wait until I felt like I could stand outside all day, and today was that day,” said Morrow, 72, a retired auto worker who lives in Florissant. “And I want to make sure I get my vote in, even if I have to stand all day.”

“If you don’t get out and vote, you can’t cry about what happens later.”

Morrow was among about 200 people in line to vote midday Monday. Nearly every person in the line, which wrapped around the corner of the building, was wearing a required protective face mask.

It took Ernestine Robertson about an hour to reach the doors. But Robertson, 68, of Creve Coeur, was only holding a friend’s place in line. After working an overnight shift, she had volunteered to drive him out to vote.

“I didn’t want anybody to feel like they couldn’t vote because of transportation problems or anything else,” said Robertson, a home care worker who was motivated this year to vote against Trump.

“I feel like this is one of the most unusual and important elections I’ve ever voted in — and it all has to do with who is in the White House,” she said.

Trevon Graves, 27, and Jessica Sterling, 32, of Maryland Heights, were shocked to see how long the line was when they arrived shortly before noon.

“This was one day that we had free — and I was glad for that once I saw the line,” Sterling said.

Graves, who has limited vision because of retinal dystrophy and cannot legally drive, said he still tries to visit the polls to vote in-person each election. Monday was no different, he said.

“I feel more accomplished that way,” Graves said. “Every election matters.”

Noelle Casaine brought a lawn chair with her to vote, after seeing long lines at other absentee-voting locations in the county in recent weeks.

“I thought it might be a good idea,” she said. “And I figured the lines will probably be longer to vote tomorrow.”

While in line, she awaited her sister, who had mistakenly gone to a county library branch to vote. In an unusual election year, it was sometimes difficult to sort through information about exactly where and how to vote, Casaine said.

But she wasn’t concerned that the uncertainty would extend Wednesday, despite warnings from elections experts that it may take days or even weeks to count all ballots and confirm the results of a major elections.

“You vote to let yourself be heard, and do your part, but afterward things are out of your hands,” Casaine said. “But I don’t expect this year to be different from any other. Just like every penny counts, every voice matters.”

Omar Cornute, 41, of Florissant came out to vote Monday because he had volunteered with the United Auto Workers union to deliver food and water to poll workers on Tuesday.

“It’s not an easy job,” said Cornute, who works at the Wentzville GM plant, “and I want to thank them.”

{span style=”background-color: #deffde;”}{em style=”background-color: #ffffff;”}The Associated Press and Nassim Benchaabane of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.{/em}

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