curbside voting

Wilda Danback of Festus, left, and Sande Gehrs of De Soto demonstrate how curbside voting works.

There’s good news if you’re a voter in Jefferson County.

First off, there are more of you, and secondly, you have a lot of options to vote in the Nov. 3 election.

After the statewide deadline to register to vote in the November election passed on Oct. 7, the list of eligible voters in Jefferson County, which has a population of about 225,000, stands at 158,907.

“That’s an increase of 13,907 since Jan. 1,” said Jeannie Goff, chief of staff of the County Clerk’s Office. “We’ve signed up 500 since (the primary election in) August alone.”

County Clerk Ken Waller said he believes the rush to sign up is fueled by the race at the top of the ballot.

“I think it’s the presidential election, mostly,” he said. “But there are new people coming into the county and I don’t think many of them appreciated they had to sign up with us to vote. But we’ve got the word out, and you see messages about voter registration on social media and other places, so I think that also had a part to play.”

Waller said the additional voters will exact a toll on his office.

“Well, more than 13,000 voters will add work to be sure, but that’s a good thing. Any elections authority wants as many people who want to vote to do so.”

Waller said he expects a lot of those registered voters, old and new, will participate in the Nov. 3 election.

“Based on what we’re seeing so far, I have no reason to change my prediction that we’ll see turnout between 70 and 80 percent,” he said.

That would be in line with the most recent presidential election, in November 2016, when 107,702, or 73.74 percent, of the county’s voters exercised their right at the polls.

Goff said the office is planning for a 100 percent turnout.

Because of the expected voter turnout – combined with the ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic – things are more complicated this year, Waller said.

“If you’re going to the polls on Election Day, you should understand that as much as we’d like it to be safe, in some of our places, you’re not going to be able to have social distancing, or we’ll have people standing outside for a long time. That might have been OK in June or August, but I don’t think we can count on having great weather on Nov. 3.”

To that end, Waller suggests those who want to vote on Nov. 3 try to visit their polling place during off-peak hours.

“Early in the morning and after work in the evening are the two busiest times, traditionally,” he said.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. on Election Day, although anyone in line at 7 p.m. will be given an opportunity to vote.

Other options

Waller encourages voters, especially those who are concerned about their health in the wake of the pandemic, to consider absentee or mail-in voting.

The deadline to apply for either type of ballot was Wednesday.

Waller urges those who have received their ballots in the mail, after applying for either an absentee or mail-in ballot, to fill them out and send them back as soon as possible.

Both forms of ballots must be in the County Clerk’s Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. Absentee ballots may be dropped off at the office in Hillsboro or mailed in. The mail-in ballots must be delivered by mail.

Goff said the office had received 15,537 requests for absentee or mail-in ballots as of Oct. 15.

For the November 2016 general election, the county received 11,231 absentee ballots.

Waller has hired Teena and Jim Staggs of De Soto to collect absentee ballots dropped off at the front door of the Jefferson County Administration Center, 729 Maple St.

“They check to make sure you have everything you need, and then you drop it in a box right inside the door,” Waller said. “You don’t have to go through a temperature check to get into the building. You stop right at their table and can turn around and go right out.”

Waller said the Staggs have taken to their duties.

“They’re here every day,” he said. “I’ve asked them whether they’d like a day off, but they keep telling me they don’t want to. They don’t even want to take lunch at the same time, to make sure one of them is always at the table.”

In-person absentee voting

Another option, especially if you’ve missed the deadline to get an absentee or mail-in ballot sent to you, is to cast your vote in person at the County Clerk’s Office.

Waller said 2,681 people had dropped by the Hillsboro office to vote early, as of midday on Oct. 15.

“I believe we’ll see 6,000 to 8,000 walk-in voters (before Election Day)” Waller said. “Some days, we’ve been seeing 300 to 500 people a day.”

Beginning today, Oct. 22, and lasting through Friday, Oct. 30, the County Clerk’s Office will be open extended hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, and Saturday, Oct. 31.

On Monday, Nov. 2, walk-ins may cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For those who don’t – or can’t – walk in, the office offers curbside voting.

“The county administration was great in that they’re allowing us to put signs up directing curbside voters to the side of the building,” Waller said. “Our office is right there. If you call the number on the sign, we’ll have a team come out with a poll pad and your ballot, and you can fill it out in the car.”

Waller said he didn’t have any statistics on how many people have voted curbside but said business has been brisk.

Curbside voting always has been an option at local precincts on Election Day and that won’t change with this election, but Waller encouraged those who want to vote curbside to take the trip to Hillsboro in advance.

“We’re happy to accommodate everyone at the polls, but the more votes we process before Nov. 3, the less stress there will be on our poll workers, and we’re figuring on Election Day being a very busy day for all of us,” Waller said. “We’re expecting at some places at some times of the day, it’s going to take 30 minutes to an hour to get to vote.”

He said his office will likely employ a dozen temporary workers to help during this election.

More sites for in-person absentee voting

Waller has arranged for two satellite in-person absentee voting offices.

Those wishing to cast in-person absentee votes may do so from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, Oct. 28-30, at Rickman Auditorium, 747 Jeffco Blvd., in Arnold.

A second site has been set up at the Jefferson County Health Department office at 5684 Hwy. PP in High Ridge. That location will be open to voters from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 26-30.

“Combined with our office in Hillsboro, most voters in Jefferson County won’t be more than 15 or 20 minutes away from a place they may vote in person,” Waller said.

Any Jefferson County registered voter may report to either satellite location, Waller said, because his office has purchased software, computers and printers that will produce ballots on demand for anyone in the county.

“It was about $8,000 to $10,000 for the pair,” Waller said, with the money coming from federal or state grants to help election authorities deal with challenges posed by COVID-19.

Goff said election judges staffing the satellite locations, as well as those in Hillsboro, will be able to notarize ballots for voters for free. Voters may drop off absentee ballots at the satellite locations but must return mail-in ballots by the U.S. Postal Service.

Make sure your vote counts

Waller encouraged those who applied for and returned mailed-in ballots to check with his office and make sure they’ve been received.

“I would say that if you call us on the morning of Nov. 2 and we don’t have it, you should make plans to either come to us in Hillsboro that day or go to your polling place on Election Day,” he said.

No voter’s ballot will be counted twice, Goff stressed, even if one is in the mail.

The office telephone number is 636-797-5486.

Waller said he has spoken with officials with the U.S. Postal Service in St. Louis and that if there are ballots awaiting delivery on Election Day, someone from his office will be dispatched to pick them up.

“All we want to do is to make sure everyone who wants to vote does and that everyone’s vote counts,” he said. “We realize we’re probably not going to make everyone happy, but I think we’ve given this election a lot of thought and we want to make it as good for the voters as we possibly can. No matter what your situation is, I think we’ve made it so that if you want to vote in this election, there’s no reason why you can’t.”