St. Louis election officials ready for big turnout

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 | 1:26 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and St. Louis-area election officials are preparing for what could be record turnout at the polls on Nov. 4.

About 65 percent of registered Missouri voters cast ballots in the November 2004 election, and many experts believe turnout could be as high as 80 percent this time.

"It's terrific for our democracy, but for the actual mechanism of running our election, it's something we need to be prepared for," Carnahan said Tuesday at a news conference at St. Louis election headquarters.

City Election Board Chairwoman Carol Wilson and her St. Louis County counterpart, John Fox Arnold, say they've been scurrying to get poll workers in place, making sure ballots are ready and registering record numbers of voters.

With 670,000 voters already registered, St. Louis County is Missouri's largest jurisdiction. Arnold noted that the county has more voters than about a dozen states and is registering 1,500 to 3,000 new voters per day. The last day to register in Missouri is Oct. 8.

Arnold said about 5,400 poll workers will be in place at the county's 450 polling stations. In years past, each polling place had six to eight workers. This year, each station will have eight to 14 in hopes of keeping lines to a minimum.

With 37 to 44 issues or races per ballot, Arnold said voters can do their part by coming to the polls with some understanding of what they're voting on.

"Preparation is absolutely essential," he said.

St. Louis County is typically among the last jurisdictions in the state to report results. Arnold said that's because anyone in line when the polls close at 7 p.m. must be allowed to vote, and that can drag on for hours.

In the city, nearly 208,000 people have registered, and Wilson expects the number to easily top the 210,000 who registered four years ago. Like St. Louis County, long lines are possible in the city, she said.

"Courtesy and maybe a little sense of humor might help us all," Wilson said.

Carnahan reminded voters to bring some form of identification — a driver's license, student ID, bank statement or some form of government identification. Arnold said workers with hand-held computers will be at every St. Louis County polling location to direct any voters showing up at the wrong place to the right location.

Carnahan said some counties still need poll workers and noted that the average poll worker in Missouri is 72.

In years past, vote fraud allegations were often raised in St. Louis. Officials are confident those days are gone, but lawyers and other poll watchers are expected to be in the region.

That's fine, Carnahan said, as long as they don't try to disrupt the process.

Wilson is confident things will go well.

"We do feel we're up to the challenge," she said. "It's going to be a hectic Election Day."

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