High turnout at Boone Co. polls above expectations

Thursday, November 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:49 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boone County residents broke the voter-turnout record on Election Day, with a full 86 percent of qualified voters packing the polls.

“I will be honest, it was 20 percent above my highest expectations,” Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said Wednesday.

She attributed the turnout to “absolutely incredible effort” of more than 500 people working at polling places.

Anticipating a large turnout, Noren added poll workers and volunteers along with 20 new polling places, 40 new laptops and several new pagers. Together they helped change addresses, redirect voters to correct polling places and take care of any problems that might arise .

“Considering the turnout, I can’t believe the few number of problems we had at the polling places,” Noren said. “I wasn’t getting as many problems as I have had on even smaller elections.”

“Just the 50 kids working at the polling places with laptops did 1,000 change of addresses,” Noren said, referring to a new group of high school students that worked the technology. Changes of address have been her biggest Election-Day problem in the past.

Provisional ballots, or “last-chance” ballots that voters may use if they find their names aren’t on the voter rolls, were expected to cause problems across hotly contested states such as Missouri this year. However, Noren reported less than 350 such ballots were cast in Boone County.

In the county, election observers noted minor problems and relatively short lines —- a scene different from those in other states.

Noren said future elections might not be as smooth because of reforms coming from the secretary of state’s office. She said the office’s interpretation of the Help America Vote Act, the federal election reform act that requires states build a central database, will take away from her ability manage her voting system.

“I wouldn’t have made it with what they want to dump on me,” she said of the proposed changes.

“They are taking away my whole voter-registration system and replacing it with a plain vanilla system. Things like being able to cut down on the number of provisional ballots and other problems during the course of the day by having every document electronically filed — they are going to take all that away,” she said.

“They are going to have me go back to a paper-based system, which means I have to hire more people to file all this stuff and can’t get it out as quickly.”

Chuck Pryor, legislative liaison for the Missouri secretary of state’s office, said he was not aware of the specific issues noted by Noren, adding that federal law mandates every state develop a central database. In addition, he said, Secretary of State-elect Robin Carnahan will be the one implementing further changes from the Help America Vote Act.

Carnahan said she needed to wait until briefings with current Secretary of State Matt Blunt before she addresses the possible changes, but praised Noren for her voting programs.

“She’s known not just in Missouri, but really around the country, as somebody who has been on the leading edge of these reforms and coming up with model programs that other people try to use,” she said. “Clearly, we need to pay attention to the best practices we have. We also have to comply with whatever the federal regulations are because that’s where the money is coming from and that is just the balancing act that we’re going to have to do.”

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