With 2020’s mid-pandemic election in the rearview mirror, election administrators have shifted their focus to assessing the effectiveness of their efforts to ensure a safe and secure voting process. In Boone County, those efforts were an unmitigated success, according to Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon.
Speaking via Zoom at a Friday meeting of the Boone County Muleskinners, Lennon reported that nearly 30,000 absentee ballots were submitted in the county this cycle, out of almost 92,000 total votes cast.
That figure, which Lennon described as “just phenomenal,” represented an almost five-fold increase in absentee ballots compared to 2016’s total of 5,800. Additionally, overall turnout was up by 1.6% compared to 2016, she said.
Lennon attributed that increase in part to “the general interest in this election,” but also gave credit to her office’s wide-ranging efforts to provide Boone County voters with flexibility in casting their ballots safely during the pandemic.
Those efforts included giving voters the options to submit absentee ballots either by mail or in person at the clerk’s office or at satellite sites around the county. Lennon’s office designated a “point person” to handle absentee ballots and set aside two additional staff members whose strict focus was on mail-in absentee ballots.
Additionally, the clerk’s office set up drive-thru absentee voting stations the weekend before Election Day for voters who were actively quarantined.
The combined efforts added up to a smooth voting and ballot-counting process on Election Day, Lennon said, when long lines at polling places in the morning dissipated into very short lines by the afternoon.
“Our absentee processing actually went so well, that we were done counting all the mail and absentees by 3 p.m. on Election Day,” she said. “So, everything just really came together at the end.”
Lennon added she is hopeful the state legislature will continue to make it easy for voters to request and submit absentee ballots beyond this year. She said she expects that after the 2020 election, regardless of developments with a COVID-19 vaccine, voters will maintain “a significant amount of interest” in voting absentee.
“What we will have a challenge with … is that the COVID excuse in the absentee voting law and the straight mail-in excuse in the absentee law expires at the end of December,” Lennon explained. “Once that expires, we will not have a mechanism for additional absentee reasons for the April election.”
She said she is supportive of bills, such as one pre-filed this week by state Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-DeSoto, that would allow Missouri residents to vote absentee for any reason or no reason at all. Lennon said she is unsure, however, of how likely such bills are to pass.
Lennon argued that this election displayed how absentee voting can be administered effectively and should inspire trust in voters moving forward.
“I found it very interesting and encouraging that even in this time where we had this pandemic and there was so much national attention to the integrity of absentee voting and whether it could be done by mail or whether we could have ballots that got lost … people still really trusted our office to take care of that.”