JEFFERSON CITY — The forecast for Election Day: strong voter turnout expected, with chances of lines at some polling places, periods of impatience and prospects for victory too close to call in some races.
Today, Election Day 2004, is upon us at last.
Voter participation appears to be strong, based on early absentee ballots cast around the state. And the secretary of state’s office is forecasting that 63 percent of Missouri’s 4.2 million registered voters will cast ballots by the time polls close at 7 p.m.
Helping the turnout: close races at the top of the ticket between Republican President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry and between Missouri’s gubernatorial hopefuls — Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt and Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
Potentially hindering voter turnout: Cool, cloudy, wet and windy weather forecast across much of the state.
“Bad weather does usually mean lower turnout, but in this election I’m just not sure if it’s going to matter either way,” said Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, which receives the vote counts in state and federal races from local election authorities.
The Democratic and Republican parties are undertaking major efforts to get people to the polls — including reminder phone calls, even taxi rides — while retaining hundreds of poll watchers to protect their interests and employing numerous attorneys to fight out the election in court, if necessary.
Missouri election law allows a candidate to request a recount whenever a race is decided by less than 1 percentage point. It also allows lawsuits alleging voting irregularities — no matter the vote margin — which could trigger a recount or, in the extreme, a new court-ordered election.
Still fresh in many voters’ minds is the quagmire of the 2000 presidential election, when balloting troubles and a narrow vote margin in Florida delayed the outcome of the presidential race for more than a month.
St. Louis also was a 2000 trouble spot. Unprepared for a deluge of voters, the city saw some turned away from the polls, and a judge ordered polls held open after their scheduled closing, a ruling swiftly overturned by an appeals court.
Mayor Francis Slay said his city wants to avoid such “national embarrassment” this time. The St. Louis Board of Elections has more poll workers and more technology to help confirm whether voters are registered and where they should cast their ballots.
Outside the city, local election planners took a lesson from that election and have added workers and voting machines. Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren added 21 polling places for a total of 90 voting sites.
“There is a lot of nervousness on the part of our poll workers, because they know the spotlight is on the process this time,” Noren said. “A lot of people are watching. I just tell them, follow your checklists and let us know if you have a problem.”
Missouri has long been a political bellwether, voting for the winning presidential candidate every time except once (1956) during the past century. But presidential coattails don’t always carry in the Show-Me State.
In 2000, Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in Missouri by less than 78,000 votes, a close but comfortable 3.3 percentage points. In the same election, Democrat Bob Holden defeated Republican Jim Talent in the gubernatorial race by barely 21,000 votes, a cushion of less than 1 percentage point.
McCaskill and Blunt began pre-election swings Monday in St. Joseph — she stopped at a breakfast spot, then a high school; he rallied with other Republican candidates at the local GOP headquarters.