Slimin' the City

When it comes to Election Day problems in St. Louis, the politicians' rhetoric doesn't match the reality

Minutes after the polling places opened at 6 a.m., he says, judges were dialing the election board to verify names but kept getting busy signals. This continued the rest of the day at all the precincts in the ward, resulting in frustrated voters' having to wait to vote. "There was a constant complaint from judges -- they just couldn't get through," Chance says. He also says he stopped about five people from voting because they said they lived in the county but figured that because they had previously been registered in the city, they could vote. Others were turned away because they registered after the Oct. 11 deadline, he says. Better-prepared voters who know the law would go a long way toward a more orderly Election Day, he adds.

Chance also says too many election judges are simply too old to do the job. "It's a long, grueling day with a lot of cranky and angry people you're dealing with," he says. "Quite frankly, a lot of these people are not capable, physically or mentally, to do the job."

Election judges are paid $79 for the day, which translates to barely minimum wage for the 14 or 15 hours they work. Kimbrough agrees that too many elderly people work as judges, slowing the process when turnout is large. "If you would double the pay, we would get more people applying," he says.

Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond went ballistic after learning that a judge had ordered that the polls remain open.
Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond went ballistic after learning that a judge had ordered that the polls remain open.

He also notes that the election-board offices, at 300 N. Tucker Blvd., are far too small and have only three windows to serve voters. The board's previous office, across from City Hall, had 28 windows. Kimbrough says he's absolutely certain that no fraud took place, that no more than 100 people were allowed to vote after the polls were ordered closed by the appellate court and that although voters experienced long delays, not that many were denied their right to vote.

In any case, nobody is alleging that the outcome of any race would have changed had there been perfectly run city elections.

All of this goes to show that Bond and his suburban Republican colleagues have blown a relatively minor problem out of proportion and that Clay and his Democratic colleagues overstated the extent of the disenfranchisement.

As for the politicians who are promising to overhaul the election board, including Mayor Clarence Harmon and Aldermanic President Francis Slay, they might be better off using their power to leverage more money -- so the election board can get more and better workers by offering more than a minimum wage and so it can set up a better phone system, staffed by more workers, to cut down delays.

That way, we won't have to suffer another court fight led by Democrats in the city of St. Louis. Or a ballistic Kit Bond spouting nonsense on the next Election Night.

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