A surge in absentee voting signaled a large turnout

A surge in absentee voting signaled a large turnout
Dave Faries

There are 15,409 voters registered in Audrain County. Well before election day, County Clerk Lisa Smith and her team anticipated a larger percentage than normal would cast ballots.

Even though all local offices were uncontested, there was that contentious presidential race, a prickly battle for the governorship and a constitutional amendment that fueled a bitter division. But that’s not what gave Smith an inkling that 2020 would be an unusual election.

Thanks in part to concerns related to COVID-19, 1,474 voters requested absentee ballots. By Friday morning, 1,411 of those had been returned – by mail or in person – to the County Clerk’s office.

Four years ago, there were 718 absentee ballots cast.

The pandemic added a few extra steps to election preparations. Smith added coronavirus to the list of reasons for requesting an absentee ballot. A few of the election judging regulars had to bow out this year due to the potential for infection or the inability to wear a face covering for an extended period – one of the new requirements for election officials to ensure safety at the polls.

“I don’t think this year has been normal at all,” Smith pointed out.

And yet there was an element of routine to election week. Two supervising judges from each of the 16 precincts return data from the ballots, which is stored on drives, to the office. One team checks these in. Four people are devoted to absentee ballots. Apart from write in votes, much of the math is done electronically. By 8:30 or 9 pm, the process is complete and unofficial results can be reported.

It’s all bipartisan – each team has members of both parties – and computerized.

“When I started in 2002 we had punch cards,” Smith recalled. The initial tally could not be forwarded to the Secretary of State and the public until 10 pm, or perhaps later.
But that doesn’t mean the clerk’s office is done. There are phone calls. The signs, paraphernalia and booths must be gathered up. And by law, Smith can’t certify results until Friday at noon, allowing time for ballots from active duty military to be counted.

Still, more than 9 percent of potential ballots were already in the office by Friday morning – an indication that the 2020 election would not follow the norm. The official voter turnout will not be known until the results are certified, of course. But just 64.8 percent of registered voters in Audrain County cast a ballot in the 2016 general election. In 2012, a paltry 59.5 percent turned out.


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