Will pandemic, mail-in ballots delay Missouri primary results? Election officials doubt it
There’s no denying that the pandemic is going to make primary elections look a little different this year.
Many voters will be wearing masks and gloves and polling places are liable to smell like sanitizer.
Elections officials said at least one thing won’t change, though: Missourians will know the winners on election night.
But Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, a Democrat, said she doesn't "see any reason why we would have any delays, particularly with absentee."
Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, a Republican, said the same thing when asked about delays in other states.
"I don't think that's going to happen here," he said.
And Maura Browning, a spokeswoman for Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, said her boss and his staff have been talking to officials in the state's larger jurisdictions and "feel pretty confident that there won’t be any delays."
Lennon, Schoeller, Browning and others interviewed by the News-Leader Monday said there at least two good reasons to have a little confidence.
The first is that Missouri is an “in-hand” state, meaning absentee and mail-in ballots must be in the hands of local elections officials when the polls close on election day to be counted.
Other states, like Kentucky and New York, count any ballot postmarked the day of the election, making delays inevitable in normal circumstances and worse with so many trying to vote from home.
The second reason is that Missouri law allows clerks and other local election authorities to open mail-in ballots and get them ready to put through voting machines five days before an election. Other states don’t have that head start.
"So when election day begins, they’ll be able to start running those machines," said Browning, the spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office.
Eric Fey, a Democratic director of elections in St. Louis County, the state's largest, allowed that ballots coming in right at the deadline might take a little extra time.
"But," he said, "the vast majority, 98-99 percent of the absentee ballots will be counted and reported to the public (on Tuesday)."
Lennon, the Boone County Clerk, said that five-day period also gives officials time to call voters who send in ballot envelopes without the required signature or notary stamp so they can fix the mistake and be counted.
Those two things don't guarantee smooth sailing.
At least some of the delay in New York City is due to issues arising from officials mailing voters their ballots late, which has prompted a lawsuit demanding late votes be counted.
But Schoeller, Fey and Lennon noted Missouri law requires voters to request mail-in ballots at least two Wednesdays before an election and clerks to send them their ballots within three days.
Greene and St. Louis counties had ballots in the mail by that Thursday, and Lennon said most of the requests in Boone County were cleared in similar time, with stragglers overnighted by Saturday.
Other issues may eventually arise, especially in November, when turnout for a highly contentious general election is expected to be well above what's expected Tuesday.
Multiple officials said absentee voting will need to become more popular by then to avoid long lines at polling places that could make for a long election night.
And Schoeller said that while he was able to hire enough poll workers to staff all of the usual polling places this time around, he'll need even more next time around.
If he and other officials can't hire enough, there could be fewer polling places and more correspondingly longer lines.
But Fey, the St. Louis County elections director, said that trouble will likely be pushed off for at least a few more months.
"I think all bets are off for November," he said. "But I think we’ll see something pretty close to normal (Tuesday)."