Boone County, MU prepare for Election Day

This election will look very different, and organizations on and off campus are grappling with how to conduct a free and fair election safely.
Graphic by Geoffrey Dean

Less than a week remains until the United States’ first pandemic election since 1918, and MU groups and Boone County officials are coming together to prepare.

This year’s election will look different. More people will likely vote by mail; in this year’s primary elections, more than half of all ballots cast were by mail, far overshadowing the 25% of all ballots sent by mail in the 2016 general election.

Turnout will also likely increase. 60 million Americans have already voted as of Oct. 25, and according to the U.S. Elections Project, 47.2 million people had voted early overall in 2016.

Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon said that as of Oct. 14, voters had requested 16,000 absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election. In contrast, just 6,250 Boone County voters requested absentee ballots for the 2016 general election overall.

Lennon said Boone County’s 76 open polling locations will follow the same precautions on Nov. 3 as they did during the elections in June and August. These include social distancing, plexiglass barriers between voters and election judges along with hand sanitizer and masks for election judges. She said that while the Clerk’s Office is requiring judges to wear masks, it is not requiring the same of voters.

“We don't want to enact any barriers that prevent someone from exercising their constitutional right to vote,” Lennon said.

Lennon said the county has conducted two pandemic elections smoothly so far: the municipal race in June and the primary in August.

More people than usual voted by mail in these elections. Lennon said voters requested about 4,800 absentee ballots in June and 8,300 in August. In the April 2016 election — a municipal election comparable to June’s race — she said voters requested just 1,200 absentee ballots.

Lennon said her office is making it safer for voters to cast their ballots by opening up a polling place at Mizzou Arena, which is located a mile south of Francis Quadrangle on Champions Drive and is the only polling location on MU’s campus.

Lennon’s office assigns Boone County voters to a specific polling place based on their address. Lennon said Mizzou Arena will be open to all voters, as will the Boone County Courthouse.

Tony Wirkus, MU Athletic Department associate director, said the polls at Mizzou Arena will be open only on Election Day, like all polls in Missouri. It will open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Wirkus said those without cars can reach the arena via the Tiger Line Shuttle.

Although polling places are not open for early voting, Lennon said Missouri residents who want to vote early can do so by requesting a ballot online or in-person at the courthouse.

Voters who cannot physically be at their polling place on Election Day (whether for work, school or military service) can receive absentee ballots. Voters can also cite COVID-19 as their reason for wanting a mail ballot; however, they will receive a special mail-in ballot that Missouri is only authorizing for this election.

Missouri requires absentee voters to get their ballots notarized unless they cite COVID-19 as their reason for voting by mail. Lennon said voters can find a notary at the Clerk’s Office or Columbia Public Library. MU also offers notary services in its Student Center.

Brendan Spicer, the vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, said his organization can also help voters who need a notary.

“Missouri does have a … different set of rules than a lot of states around the country,” Spicer said. “Our chapter president this year, Bailey Martin, is actually a certified notary, and I'm in the process of becoming one. We've also directed several students to notaries at the University of Missouri Cashiers Office.”

Some, including President Donald Trump, say the increase in absentee voting this election will create fraud. Voter fraud is extremely rare in America, and no evidence suggests absentee ballots are more likely to be fraudulent. An Arizona State University voter fraud database found just 491 accused cases of absentee voter fraud out of hundreds of millions of votes cast between 2000 and 2012.

Lennon said that since she became county clerk in 2018, Boone County has had no cases of voting fraud. She also said absentee voting does not increase fraud.

Lennon said her office matches all absentee ballot requests against existing voter records and marks both who requests the ballots and when those voters receive them. When the office receives a ballot, voting officials check for completeness, verify the signature and compare personal information on the ballot to the voter record. Voters marked as absentee voters are not allowed to vote at a polling place.

Counting absentee ballots takes more time than tallying in-person, and many states do not count absentee ballots until Election Day. Because of this, the winner of the election will likely not be obvious on Nov. 3.

Spicer said that although he expects the pandemic to complicate the logistics of processing the election results, he is not worried about the security of the election.

“I think that ... the democratic process, while it certainly has flaws, is stronger than any one issue or circumstance that one can throw at it,” Spicer said. “In the end, everything will be okay. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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