The last presidential election revealed a lack of confidence many Americans have in our ability to accurately count the results. The responsibility for administering elections is federally delegated to the states. In Missouri, elections are further decentralized to 116 local election jurisdictions. These jurisdictions are led by an elected county clerk.
In Jefferson City, that would be Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer.
Next week will find Korsmeyer conducting official testing of the county’s voting machines in advance of countywide municipal elections that will take place on April 6. Later in the month will be poll worker training to staff the county’s 28 voting precincts.
“We have it down pretty good,” Korsmeyer said. “For the most part our poll workers live in the precinct where they work and are pretty experienced.”
Korsmeyer, who is in the third year of his second four-year term, said conducting a municipal election with 10 percent turnout is no less preparation than a national election with 70 percent turnout. In fact, it can be more.
“For the presidential election we only had seven different ballots for the 28 precincts,” Korsmeyer said. “For this April election there are 23 different ballots.”
All voters in the county will be asked to renew Cole County’s half-cent sales tax. All five wards in Jefferson City have elections. In addition, there are ballot questions in Centertown, Russellville, Lohman, Taos and Wardsville. Cole County R-1 and R-5 boards of educations have seats open. And there are questions in three fire districts, all requiring their own unique ballot. The election will cost about $35,000.
The clerk’s office must make sure the correct ballots are delivered to the corresponding precinct. Each precinct will also be delivered one of the county’s Unisyn ballot scanners that it will utilize at the end of election day to tabulate the votes. Each election day brings its own challenges.
“There’s always the chance of electronic failure and the machine won’t boot up,” Korsmeyer said. “Or it boots up with an error message. We’ve had power failures at the precincts. There’s been changed locks, and the keys didn’t fit. There’s a lot to go off without a hitch in one day.”
The county prepares two spare ballot scanners and has IT solutions ready if necessary.
“Most of the time any problems can be fixed by phone,” Korsmeyer said.
Still, it’s a long and busy day, beginning at 5 a.m. and not ending until nine in the evening when the counting is completed.
The ballot scanners in Cole County are relatively new. They were purchased in 2015. Prior to each election, they are tested with pre-marked ballots. After the election they are tested again prior to certifying the results. A precinct is hand-counted to make sure it matches the machine count. The number of ballots are counted at each precinct to make sure they match what is being reported by the machine. Korsmeyer said he’s always had confidence in the accuracy of the final results.
Ballot systems across the country lag technology and are a mix of hand-counted paper ballots, punch cards, optical scanners and electronic scanners. Aging machines and inconsistent practices lead to the concerns about the process and the possibility of fraud. While acknowledging the public’s concern, Korsmeyer said there are too many procedures, checks and balances for somebody to actually steal an election.
“I can’t see how it could happen,” he said. “There would have to be so many people involved in the process, I just don’t see it.”
If Korsmeyer could change anything, he said it would be participation from the public in the local elections.
“I think it’s a shame more people don’t vote,” he said. “I’d like to see more people turn out to vote.”