Paquin Tower and Oak Towers in the First Ward will no longer be polling locations, following Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks’ decision to remove or relocate four polling places.
He also has replaced the Elks Lodge in the Sixth Ward and Parkade Baptist Church in the Second Ward with different venues. There will be a municipal election on April 3.
Paquin and Oak Towers residents, who are primarily seniors and people with disabilities, will have to go to the Boone County Government Center or the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Senior Services, respectively, if they want to cast ballots on election day. Or they can cast absentee ballots.
Elections are expensive, but Burks hopes to save taxpayer money in Boone County by reducing the number of polling places and changing some locations, he said.
“This is something the county clerk has done for decades,” Burks said. “When the turnout is projected to be lower, we reduce the number of polling places ... so we have done it every April.”
Burks noted that voter turnout is historically low at Paquin Tower and Oak Towers, even in years when the First Ward is electing a council member. It’s even lower in years like this one, when the First Ward council seat isn’t on the ballot.
This year’s municipal election includes a contested Second Ward City Council race, a contest for a seat on the Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees and a race for positions on the Columbia School Board. Incumbent Sixth Ward City Councilwoman Betsy Peters is running unopposed.
Burks said the polling places replacing Paquin Tower and Oak Towers are roughly five blocks away and are accessible to people with disabilities. At this point, he said, he wouldn’t be able to restore the original locations because the county is too far into the election cycle.
Burks said he tries to estimate voter turnout for each election to equally distribute voters among precincts. He estimated the Paquin Tower and Oak Towers turnout in April would be roughly 6 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively, and decided to close them for April. They will reopen for the August primary when turnout is projected to be higher.
“The whole goal is accessibility across the county,” Burks said.
The Elks Lodge in the Sixth Ward charged the county $700 to use its building for voting purposes, so Burks chose to replace it with the nearby Old Hawthorne Clubhouse, which will be free. Parkade Baptist Church withdrew as a polling place and will be replaced by the Revolution Church at 203 E. Leslie Lane.
Burks, who Gov. Eric Greitens appointed to become county clerk after Wendy Noren stepped down for health reasons, will be seeking election to the position in November. He is being challenged by Democrat Brianna Lennon.
Lennon said in a news release on Wednesday that she will offer free transportation to polling places for voters who normally would use Paquin Tower or Oak Towers.
“Voters at these polling places often have trouble securing reliable transportation, so having an accessible polling place within reach is critical,” Lennon said in the news release. “It’s important to me that every eligible voter has an equal opportunity to cast a ballot at every election.”