Missouri ranks among states best prepared for polling

Sunday, November 2, 2008 | 6:15 p.m. CST; updated 8:57 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bring it on.

Need a ride to the polls?

Here's some information about organizations offering rides to polling places on Tuesday.

Services for Independent Living

    Rides for people with disabilities.

    Call ahead to schedule a ride. First come, first served.

    Rides are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. within Boone County.

    Call 874-1646, extension 233.

Grass Roots Organizing

    Anyone is eligible.

    Calls on Election Day are OK, but you can also call ahead. First come, first served.

   Rides are available within Columbia city limits from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., but most will be provided between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

   Call 443-4476.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Second Baptist Church

    Anyone is eligible.

    Call on Election Day.

   Rides are available within Columbia city limits from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

   Call the church at 449-4703, or the NAACP at 881-0163.

Boone County Democratic Headquarters

    Anyone is eligible.

    Calls on Election Day are OK.

    Rides are available from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. within Boone County.

    Call 877-662-4264.   

Boone County Republican Headquarters

    Anyone is eligible.

    Call anytime from now until 2 p.m. Tuesday.

    Rides are available anywhere in Boone County, but will focus on Columbia and Ashland.

    Call 443-3876 or 999-7854.


There will be high pressure to conduct a flawless election on Tuesday.

And Missouri is one of six states named best prepared to ensure that all votes will be cast and counted accurately, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, the Common Cause Education Fund and the Verified Voting Foundation.

California, North Carolina, Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon join Missouri on the short list.

The study compared state practices in polling place contingency plans, requirements for sound ballot accounting and reconciliation, the use of voter-verifiable paper records and the conduct of post election audits.

States were scored on a five-point scale ranging from "inadequate" to "excellent" based on whether and how well they implement "best practices" within the rated categories. States that received positive ratings in at least three of the four categories were listed as "best prepared" to deal with any problems. States that received at least three negative ratings were deemed "least prepared."

Missouri scored "generally good" in the categories of ballot reconciliation and post election audits, meaning it "needs improvement in specific areas" within those categories.

It scored "good" in the category of voter verifiable paper records. It received a "not applicable" in the category of polling place contingency plans because it relies primarily on paper ballots, so machine failures shouldn't force voters to wait in long lines or prevent them from casting ballots.

"We advocate that all election jurisdictions around the state print plenty of paper ballots so all of their voters can use one of those if they so choose," said Ryan Hobart, deputy communications director for the Missouri Secretary of State's Office.

Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon also use paper ballots. Of the six most prepared states, the polling place contingency plan applied only to California and North Carolina; their voting earned scores of "excellent" and "good," respectively, in that category.

Of the 10 states deemed least prepared Texas, Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Utah, and Virginia received negative ratings for polling place contingency plans.

If a state is using an electronic voting system, such as touch screen machines, and it lacks emergency paper ballots in case of machine failures, "that was one strike against you," said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center.

Paper ballots serve the dual purpose of creating a voter-verifiable record that can be used to check whether all votes are accounted for and counted accurately. Hobart said they also reduce the likelihood of long lines at the polls.

Voting machine failures also can create long lines. "If you don't have a good emergency ballot plan, and your machine fails, you're starting a leg behind everyone else," Norden said.

Most jurisdictions in Missouri use paper ballots that are counted by optical scanning machines. Each polling place also will have at least one electronic voting machine equipped with a printer to create a verifiable paper record. The machines are intended to make it easier for people with disabilities to cast ballots.

Boone County uses the optical scan system. "When you tie people to a machine to vote, it's inevitable you're going to have lines," Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said.

Noren has decided that Boone County isn't "going to be reliant on touch screen voting" and noted that the authors of the study particularly liked Missouri's use of the optical scan system.

"They made an assumption — touch screens bad; optical scan good — and that's fine," Noren said. "But I don't think they made a correct analysis of what optical scan system issues can come up."

Noren said one possible problem is the failure of the optical scan machine to count votes if the ovals by candidates' names or next to the "yes" and "no" choices on issues have not been completely darkened.

Noren said voters are "being trained to vote incorrectly" by graphics in direct mailings and the media that show check marks or x's next to ballot choices. Voters often use these rather than following ballot instructions to fill in the ovals completely.

"It may pick up the cross mark, but it may not," she said. "It's a problem."

Noren said Missouri's post-election procedure of random manual audits also scored well in the study. The state has 116 election jurisdictions, and each must randomly select 5 percent of its precincts to audit after every election.

"One of the things they did criticize Missouri on is (that) we don't have a requirement to reconcile ballots," Noren said.

Although Missouri doesn't require ballot reconciliation, Boone County does. After the polls close on Election Day, Noren and her staff will go through the long process of matching machine tallies to the paper versions of every regular and absentee ballot cast.

Noren said jurisdictions that report results in time for the 10 p.m. news probably aren't reconciling votes. "The ones that are reporting really late — they're doing it. That's how you can tell."

Both Norden and Noren emphasized the limited scope of the study and its failure to address other potential problems on Election Day.

Norden said the study focused on "a very specific area of concern: how the states cope with equipment problem failures." But there are "other issues of preparation that are at least as important," such as complete voter poll books and poll worker training. The Brennan Center has studied those separately.

Hobart said Missouri has a $2 million grant this year to "pay for more poll workers to help process voters through the lines" and to train them.

One thing voters can do on Tuesday is to make sure they go to the correct polling place, particularly if they've moved since registering or last voted. If they have, they must file a change of address with the clerk's office. To learn how to do that, or to find your polling place, go to

Noren said failure to change addresses is "the No. 1 problem voters have on Election Day."


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