COLUMBIA — Steady streams of voters flowed into polling places across Columbia and Boone County on Tuesday to help the nation choose a president and to fill a slate of other offices, from U.S. senator to Boone County public administrator.
The general election ballot also featured five ballot measures, including proposals to increase the state's excise tax on tobacco products and a local proposition seeking a sales tax to fund mental health services for young people.
It was clear from the time the polls opened that it would be a busy day for the county clerk's office and for election judges, who were deployed to more than 70 polling places.
Among voters who spoke with the Missourian, most cited their decisions in the presidential race between incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney as the most important vote they had cast. The Boone County ballot also included Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode.
Larry Nave, a 63-year-old security officer at Fulton State Hospital who voted at Parkade Baptist Church, said his decision in the presidential race was based on ensuring "quality of life for everyone, without attachment to race, color, religious belief and gender."
"Everybody should have a fair chance," Nave said. "Those politicians who are supposed to represent people somehow forget it. If you think Obama is not a good president, help him to be a good one. Don't wait for four years and let the American people suffer. If you are in a sinking boat, you are not gonna help because you don't like the leader."
Emily Mora, a paralegal, voted at the First Church of the Nazarene. She called Tuesday's election the most exciting she had experienced in a long time.
"Whoever wins, it's an important election," Mora said. "Personally, I'd love to have dinner with Barack Obama, but he's done too many things I don't like. My vote for Romney is more of an anti-Obama vote."
Others were critical of Obama as well.
"He promised to make our economy better, and yet he made it 10 times worse," 20-year-old Brie Gamache said. She voted at Broadway Christian Church.
"I voted for Romney because the current direction of the country has not been positive, and we've given the president four years," Tom Ellis, a 42-year-old lawyer who voted at Fairview Road Church of Christ said.
Some voters, however, said Obama should be given more time to accomplish his goals.
Kevin Dingman, 48, is a quality control manager at MBS Textbook Exchange. "I have a strong opinion for Obama," he said after voting at Lange Middle School. "I think the Republicans have been road-blocking Congress for the past two years, and I'm hoping the House of Representatives will get a Democratic majority to get things done."
At the Armory Sports and Recreation Center, rehabilitation technician Terrell Fane, 26, cast a vote for Obama.
"I see a positive increase in the economy, and I need Obamacare for my mom and my sick uncle," he said. "Medicare is really important even though I do not use it. It is good to know that my dad has Medicare when he needs it, and I know my pop really needs it."
Few people had a lot to say to the Missourian about the U.S. Senate race featuring incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and Libertarian Jonathan Dine. Nor did they talk a lot about the contests for statewide offices or local legislative seats.
Proposition B, however, got a lot of attention. Most voters who spoke to the Missourian about it said they favored the idea of higher cigarette taxes.
"We want to feed into education funding and also curb smoking, which has exploded in the U.S. over the years," Rick Rother, an elementary school art teacher who voted at the senior center in Ashland, said. "Cigarettes are a major health issue and almost as huge as the obesity problem."
MU veterinary student Kevin Shrewsberry also favored Proposition B when he voted at the First Church of the Nazarene. "I think that's a good thing," he said. "If people want to smoke, the state can get a little extra for it."
Chuck Westcott, a retiree who cast his ballot at Lange Middle School, is skeptical higher cigarette taxes will have any impact on the state budget.
"I don't like raising taxes on tobacco," he said. "I think it has been proven in New York and New Jersey that consumption will go down, and people will go across state lines to purchase their tobacco."
Jeff Perkins, a programmer assistant for Columbia Insurance Group who voted at Grace Bible Church, said he doubts the state would spend revenue from Proposition B the way it's intended. The ballot language promises it would be split among higher education, K-12 education and smoking cessation programs.
"I didn't vote for Prop B," Perkins said. "I don't want them getting more money because they misuse it. It's like the lottery; they don't use it for what it was intended."
The only local issue on the ballot is Proposition 1, which calls for a sales tax to pay for mental health services for young people. At 6 a.m. Tuesday, Laurie Paris, a 45-year-old social worker, stood alone outside the Boone County Fire Protection District headquarters preparing to campaign for the measure.
Dressed in a brown suede parka and holding leaflets in her faux-leopardskin-gloved hands, Paris asked for voters support as they arrived at the polls.
"If this passes, this is going to help kids in Boone County, and there's a lot of need (here)," Paris said. "There's a lot of at-risk kids."
Tuesday marked the first time Paris had canvassed for votes outside a polling place.
"Earlier this morning there were a few negative reactions, but I've gotten a lot of positive ones since then," she said later in the day. "So it's given me the confidence to keep going."
For many voters, Tuesday wasn't about any particular race or issue as much as it was about exercising their right to vote. Till Rosenberger showed up to vote at Broadway Christian Church with his wife and daughter because he believes voting is a civic duty.
Rosenberger, 45 and a stay-at-home dad, said that because he is a first-generation American he celebrates the opportunity to vote. His parents emigrated from Germany and Austria in the late 1960s, and when Rosenberger was born in the United States he was the only American citizen in his family for 25 years.
"When I grew up, my parents couldn't vote, and I watched them be frustrated with politics because they couldn't," Rosenberger said. "I haven't squandered it."
MU professor Amanda Rosenberger also values the right to vote. She said the first time she voted was by absentee ballot and she remembers being absolutely overjoyed.
Neill Guinn, 30, brought his 4-year-old stepdaughter, Ava Kois, to Fairview Road Church of Christ to watch him vote. Ava enjoyed the experience at the polls.
"I had fun voting," she said. "I got a sticker."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.