Explanation sought after St. Louis County ballot shortage

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 4:03 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri state and local officials on Wednesday demanded to know why nearly 8 percent of St. Louis County precincts ran out of ballots and some voters were turned away during municipal elections.

St. Louis County Democratic elections director Eric Fey said shortages occurred on Tuesday in 63 precincts that required ballots for multiple jurisdictions such as school board and municipal government elections. Those polling places require two different styles of ballots. Somehow, the number of ballots needed for each style was reversed. The result was too many ballots in some styles, too few in others.

The Secretary of State's Elections Integrity Unit is reviewing the election, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jason Kander said Wednesday.

"Our goal is to let St. Louis County voters know where the Election Board erred and give the Board advice on how to move forward," spokeswoman Stephanie Fleming said in a statement.

The county's top two elections officials agreed to testify before the Missouri House Urban Issues Committee. Chairman Courtney Curtis, a Democrat from Ferguson, said he initially asked that both Fey and Republican director Gary Fuhr testify Thursday. They requested a delay to allow more time to gather information on what went wrong. A date for the hearing has not been set.

"Mistakes like this should never occur in Missouri elections and must not be allowed to happen again," Curtis said in a statement. "At a time when voter involvement, especially in north St. Louis County, is more important than ever, yesterday's debacle doesn't encourage people to participate in the process."

The County Council plans a public hearing where election board members will testify as to what went wrong. A specific date for the hearing has not been set.

Fey said the election board is also performing its own internal investigation.

Gov. Jay Nixon called the problems "inexcusable."

It was uncertain how many voters were turned away because of the shortage.

The election board sought an extension of voting hours to 9 p.m. instead of the normal 7 p.m. closing time at affected precincts. A judge denied the request. The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and allowed polls to stay open until 9 p.m., but that ruling came several minutes after the polls had first closed. It wasn't clear how many people voted during the extended hours.

The governor appoints members of the county election board. The board then selects two directors — one Democrat and one Republican. The lead director is the one from the same party as the governor — currently Fey, since both he and Nixon are Democrats.

Neither County Executive Steve Stenger nor the County Council has direct control of the election board.