Monday, November 8, 2010

County Elections Director Says "Unruly Students" Had To Be Escorted From Poling Location

I wrote earlier about how Washington University students were apparently purged from voter rolls and denied provisional ballots. This is part of long history of problems from the Board of Elections at Wash U polling locations, and takes on a special significance in this election because at first count Democrat Barbara Fraser was said to be trailing Republican John Lamping by only 176 votes out of 60,000 cast.

Today, Jo Mannies at the Beacon did some digging on this story, and the reaction from Democratic elections director Joe Donahue was truly remarkable:
Donahue did, however, take issue with reports that some Washington University students were improperly denied provisional ballots when they showed up at a polling place that serves the campus' South 40 dorms.

The account he had received from all the poll workers, said Donahue, "totally contradicted'' what the students said earlier to the news media.

Those students no longer were on the rolls, Donahue said, because they had moved off campus to University City or elsewhere. Even if they had cast a provisional ballot at the South 40 site, he said, the votes would not have counted because such students were at the wrong polling place -- and actually lived outside the 24th District.

He asserted that some students had gotten unruly, forcing the poll workers to call Washington University's security officers. No charges were filed.
I, for one, find it extremely unlikely that students were being allowed to vote yet somehow were being "unruly." Furthermore, given this report by KSDK, it seems very likely that the "unruly students" being referred to is actually Kate Gaertner, the Editor of Washington University newspaper Student Life. Here's what that report said:
"There are no circumstances that I can envision in which these voters should have been denied at the least an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot," Lieberman said. "Provisional ballots exist as an avenue of a last resort for people who eligibility can't be immediately established."

"And I saw four kids in a row get turned away," said junior Robert Pino.

Gaertner went to get the numbers - how many registered voters can vote here, how many did, and how many provisional ballots were filled out - all of which Lieberman said are a matter of public record.

The senior explained then that all the questions prompted poll workers' call to police.

"I was just on the phone with a lawyer," she said she told poll officials. "She said we have a right to this information, we can press charges if you don't give it to us."

In the end, she was escorted off campus and Robert Pino saw no resolution.
So Donahue's "unruly" student, as far as I can tell, was a journalist trying to get public information that she had a right to. Furthermore, Donahue's claims not only contradict the statements of students, but also the statements Polly Guth, a supervisor of the polling location. Here's what Guth had to say:
It is unclear how many voters were denied provisional ballots or turned away without the proper information, but Polly Guth, a supervisor of the polling place on the 40, said that voters who requested a provisional ballot earlier than 4:30 p.m. were denied. Officials indicated that only a small handful of students were turned away at the polls.

“The person this morning who we talked to [on the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners] said no [to giving out provisional ballots] and did not give us a follow-up number,” Guth said.
And later:
Guth said that she was just following orders and understands why some students were upset.

“I know how frustrating it is, and I do apologize, but what they [the St. Louis election board] tell you, you have to do it,” Guth said. “It’s scary when you don’t.”
This reaction from the Board of Elections, which as I mentioned has a history of causing problems for students and for minority districts, strikes me as extremely implausible. It also raises a number of questions:

  • Who told Polly Guth not to give out provisional ballots? Why did they do so?
  • Why weren't the poll workers provided with a follow-up number if they had questions?
  • Why were provisional ballots not provided until 4:30?
  • Why were students' names purged from voter rolls, which in my understanding violates federal law?
  • Why didn't poll workers direct students who had moved to their correct polling locations?
  • Why didn't poll workers provide public information when asked?
  • Why does the board of elections routinely not answer their phones during elections?

  • This case is extremely fishy. I'm glad Mannies is on the beat, and I hope the journalists at Student Life can get to the bottom of this issue, especially considering that a state senate seat might hang in the balance.

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