One of my favorite features of Boone County is that we have an active and engaged voting population. Nearly 36,000 registered voters cast a ballot in last week’s primary, and, based on past elections, it’s likely that over 85,000 voters will make their voices heard on Nov. 3.
Every eligible voter that participates in our elections helps improve our community and our democracy. I’m also mindful of the fact that 2020 presents unique challenges to voting that none of us could have predicted. As the clerk’s office continues to prepare for November, I wanted to encourage voters to start making their voting plans, too. Whether you want to vote in person or by mail, there’s a lot to consider before Election Day.
Voters who cast their ballot in person last week will have noticed that social distancing measures, plexiglass shields and face masks were utilized at our polling places. Expect the voting experience to be similar in November, but take into account that 50,000 more voters will be casting their ballots, too.
We’re making plans to have more polling places available, which will require more election judges (sign up to help at http://vote.boonemo.org), and it’s also important that voters keep their voter registration records current if they’ve changed their name or address. Making these updates early will lead to a smoother and faster experience at the polls. You can update your address any time on our website or the Secretary of State’s website.
If the June and August elections are any indication, nearly a third of the voters that turn out in November will request a mailed ballot. The absentee voting period begins on Sept. 22, but the earlier you request your ballot, the sooner you’ll receive it this fall and the sooner you can return it to the office to be counted. Review the requirements for voting by mail and consider making your request now at vote.boonemo.org before the 5 p.m. Oct. 21 deadline. Remember that if you are requesting a mailed ballot because of 1) incapacity or confinement because of illness or 2) having COVID-19 or being at risk for contracting or transmitting COVID-19, you do not need to get your ballot envelope notarized.
Mailing your ballot also means you need to account for mail delivery. Expect seven to 10 days for the ballot to get to our office so if you still have your absentee ballot in hand the week before the election, return it directly to the clerk’s office at 801 E. Walnut in downtown Columbia. Every ballot must be received in the clerk’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
With all of the questions about voting by mail, I also wanted to share how the process works in our office behind the scenes. Accountability measures are ingrained in every element of voting by mail, from the time that voters requests their ballot to the moment they are counted on election night. These measures help ensure the integrity of our election process and confidence in the outcome.
First, when a voter decides to vote a mailed absentee ballot, they fill out an application with personally identifying information, including the last four digits of their Social Security number, birth date and a signature. They submit that application to the clerk’s office by mail, email or using our online portal, which can only be utilized by registered Boone County voters. Once the office receives the application, we compare it to the applicant’s voter registration record to make sure the voter is already registered. We also check to see if the voter’s record is “active,” which means that we have the correct address on file for them and that they have either a) voted in person before, which means they have shown their ID at a polling place at least once or b) provided a photo ID when they registered to vote. Once these checks are complete, we can mail a ballot to the voter.
Next, the voter receives ballot materials in the mail, votes their ballot, completes the back of the postage-paid return envelope and returns it to the clerk’s office. For any absentee ballot returned in person, we ask for the ID of the person bringing it back to make sure that they are eligible to return it. Under Missouri law, you can return your own ballot, as well as the ballot of a close relative, such as a parent, child or spouse. Our office requires any voter returning their relative’s ballot to fill out and sign a form for documentation.
Once the ballot has been received, we review the ballot envelope for any errors so that we can reach out to the voter for corrections or clarifications, if necessary. The ballot is then matched with the voter record of the person who requested it in the first place and, five days before the election, bipartisan teams of election judges begin processing them. The teams review the ballot envelopes and determine whether they can be counted. They then separate the ballot from the envelope to preserve the voter’s privacy, and the ballots are kept in secure ballot boxes. Finally, on Election Day, another bipartisan election team observes the counting of the ballots, and a final accountability check ensures that the total number of tabulated ballots matches the total number of absentee ballots received and able to be counted.
Nov. 3 will be here before you know it. Take the time today to research your voting options, update your voter registration record and prepare for Election Day — whether you vote from home or at your polling place.
Brianna Lennon is the Boone County Clerk, and her office oversees elections.