With the 2012 election season looming just beyond the horizon, St. Charles County's elections director says he is short-staffed.
Rich Chrismer told the County Council Dec. 5 that he needed at least two more bipartisan workers to watch over the absentee votes and the voting equipment at the Election Authority office, 397 Turner Blvd. in St. Peters.
Chrismer said Monday he requested six new employees when submitting his proposed budget earlier this year. A bill to adopt the 2012 county budget was introduced during the council's Dec. 5 meeting and could be voted on when the council meets Monday. Chrismer said there is still time for the county to approve the two workers he needs.
"Jackson County (Mo.) has the same number of registered voters as St. Charles County and they have double the staff members," Chrismer said Monday. Officials estimate there are 276,439 registered voters in St. Charles County.
"I've been asking for years and years for more people," Chrismer said. "We have to have bipartisan teams, and the most critical are the ones who deal with the voting equipment. That person is not supposed to be in the back by himself, and even more critical is the person who mails out absentee ballots. We try to work as much as we can with the people we have. The county tells me to prove I need them and now they're saying we can't afford them."
County Executive Steve Ehlmann said comparing St. Charles County to a county that used to be run by the Kansas City political machine of James and Thomas Pendergast wasn't the proper example.
"Jackson County is not our model for government," Ehlmann said. "But (Jackson County) is doing a lot better than they used to under Judge Pendergast, but they're still not our model for efficient government."
Chrismer has a staff of 12 to work the Feb. 7 presidential primary, the April 3 municipal elections, the Aug. 7 primary for county and state offices and the Nov. 6 general election, which will include the presidential election.
Chrismer requested a budget of $1.1 million for 2012, but Ehlmann's office recommended $817,776. Chrismer said it would cost $27,000 plus benefits for each of the two employees he is requesting. Chrismer requested $603,995 in full-time salaries for his office in 2012; $451,691 was recommended.
"We're in the budget-cutting business, not the government-growing business right now," Ehlmann said.
Chrismer said not hiring the extra two people would leave his department open to criticism.
"Something happened last year that scared me to death," Chrismer said. "St. Louis County was accused of sending out absentee ballots that already had votes on them. I have one person that mails out all absentee ballots. Someone could ask me who is watching this person and I have no response to that. Same with maintaining computers, distribution of the ballots. Do we have that person? No."
Chrismer's office spent this more than $1 million this year to buy 260 new voting machines. He said he set aside money for the purchase for the last six years.
The death of the person the county contracted to handle the bidding of the voting machines has slowed their arrival. Absentee voting for the Feb. 7 election begins Dec. 27, and Chrismer said the new machines would not be ready for that election. He said they would be in place by the April election.