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Absentee voting begins Sept. 22
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Absentee voting begins Sept. 22

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Elections

St. Francois County Clerk Kevin Engler helps a student during the voter registration drive at Mineral Area College on Thursday morning.

General Election Day on Nov. 3 will find voters choosing a presidential candidate and other officeholders down the ballot. But St. Francois County Clerk Kevin Engler said he's received several questions from citizens who are unclear about the upcoming election, often confusing it with the Primary Election last month-- when one has to declare a party to choose a candidate from within that party-- and some citizens are voting for the very first time. To address some of the more common questions he's received, Engler recently discussed different ways to vote, how to register and the following dates to remember:

  • Today: Last day to request a mail-in ballot.
  • Tuesday: Absentee voting begins. Voting at Weber Road Election Central begins.
  • Oct. 7: Last day to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election.
  • Oct. 21: Last day to request mail-in ballots for absentee voting.

As this is the general election, Democrats and Republicans are on the same ballot. There is only one ballot type for the voter to receive.

Engler said that there can be some issues with ballots that arrive through the mail.

“Some people don’t vote them correctly, but more importantly, we had a ballot that was mutilated and came in a plastic bag,” he said. “It was already late, so we couldn’t count it. It makes so much more sense to do it in person and watch your vote go through the machine and be counted.”

As a reminder, a Missouri voter is required to have identification to vote, but not a photo ID. “Oct. 7 is the last date to register to vote for the November election,” he said. “You have to have your ID, it can be a driver’s license. They have to come in and there’s a form to fill out. They can come in to the Weber Road Facility and fill out the form and get their ID card on the spot.”

“It could be your name on an electric bill at the address that you are registered at,” Engler said.  “Ninety-five percent of the people show either their voter card or their driver’s license.”

To register, or check registry, or ask election questions, contact the St. Francois County Clerk’s Office at 573-756-5411 or https://sfcgov.org/county-clerk

Engler said that registering to vote can also be done on Facebook. His office receives the electronic form, processes it and mails out the voter card.

Absentee voting in earlier elections has risen dramatically this year, and Engler is busy promoting that option to ease crowding in November. Absentee voting begins on Sept. 22 and can be done either by mail or in person.

“The problem is that November, we may have inclement weather, it may be raining and I’ve got to space people six feet apart,” he said. “If there’s 50 people at the poll that time lined up in rain or whatever, people are going to pull up and say ‘I’m not going to wait through that.'

"The only way I can figure in this COVID environment to make it safer is to have less people there and I don’t want less people voting.

"In order to do that, we need to have our paper, mail-in ballots and in-person, we need to have about 4,000-5,000 people, which would be 20% of our turnout, which would lessen the amount of people in the precincts on Election Day. August, we had a 36% turnout; we’re expecting a 65% turnout, almost twice the turnout and August was busy. That’s why I’m trying to get some of it voted and get them out.”

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Mailed absentee voting requires a voter to send in the application, the clerk’s office processes it, puts it in an envelope, puts in a self-addressed stamped envelope to return to the clerk’s office, and get it out next week or as soon as requested after Sept. 22.

“In person, we can start on the 22nd also,” Engler said. “You come into our office on Weber Road and the last two weeks we are actually going to have a full precinct there operated by poll workers.”

This precinct at the Weber Road Election Central will be open to any St. Francois County registered voter regardless of where they live in the county. Voting in person at Weber Road is until 5 p.m. the day before the election.

“We cannot vote out of our office on Election Day, we’ve got too many things going on there,” Engler said.

Engler said that Oct. 21 is the last day to request mail-in ballots for absentee voting. “The reason is that gives us two weeks to get the ballot to them and get it back to us, a reasonable time. We had almost 1,000 people do that in August, we are hoping that twice the citizens will do this in November.”

For this year, Missouri voters can request a mail-in ballot for early voting. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is today.

“You can request a mail-in if you are at high-risk, which you don’t have to prove medically, so if you’re high-risk, I have to take your word for it,” Engler said. “If you’re not at high-risk and you’re 21-65, you can request a ballot, but the request has to be notarized. We didn’t have hardly any of those in August, because if those are high-risk, they’re just not wanting to be in that crowd. I get it, come in early and vote with us. A lot of those people did that.”

Of any early voting type, Engler prefers citizens coming into Election Central in person to vote.

“They get to see them counted and going into the machines, just like you do at the precinct,” he said. “A lot of people are more comfortable with that instead of hoping your ballot gets back in. Every election I’ve been in, there’s been ballots come in after the fact and they can’t be counted.

“The safest way is to do it in person, a couple of weeks before in our office. You can get in and out in 10 minutes, we sanitize after each voter. I had very few complaints about it in August. It’s also cheaper. It costs $5 per ballot to mail out. Postage, two bigger envelopes, the labels, the return postage, the verifications and labor.”

Another option for in-person early voting is curbside service.

“It’s best if you let us know prior,” Engler said. “Two election officials go out and identify you just like they do otherwise. You vote, put your vote in an envelope-type thing, and then the workers take it in and put it in the machine. The reason it is in an envelope is that the workers can’t see how you voted.”

Ballots in any early voting method will not be opened until Election Day. Results cannot be released until after 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Engler said that they are trying a new method this time to help keep the voting process sanitary.

“We’re using a high-tech method this time for taking your ID,” he said. “We’re using clothespins. You come in, take out your ID, we take the ID with a clothespin, put it in the reader, it reads it with the clothespin on it, hand it back to you and nobody’s touched your ID or ballot.”

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com

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