Barbara Fraser, a Democrat running to replace Joan Bray in Missouri's 24th State Senate district, lost to Republican John Lamping by only 172 votes out of 60,000 cast. However, the 24th district includes the Washington University dorms and surrounding area, and there were serious problems reported at those sites. Students who had voted two years ago had been taken off the voting rolls, and these students were not provided with provisional ballots as they should have been. Student Life reports:
Some students who voted on the South 40 in 2008 did not show up as registered voters on Tuesday, even if they had not notified the state of a change of address.The article continues:
The voting rolls should have listed them as “inactive voters” on Tuesday.
Inactive voters are those who have not voted recently and may have a change of address.
Inactive status is partially determined by notification cards that the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners sends out over the summer to confirm that registered voters kept their addresses.
Many students’ cards were returned to the Board undelivered because they moved off campus or had a change of address.
When these cards come back to the Board of Election Commissioners, the voters should have been put onto an inactive voter list.
This did not happen for some students who voted on the South 40 in 2008 and did not re-register to a new address. Instead, they were taken off the voting lists entirely.And in fact the poll workers were told by the Board of Elections not to give out provisional ballots, which should have allowed the students to vote:
“The students say they voted two years ago at Wash. U., so they should be registered. The judge says that over the summer Wash. U. returned a bunch of update cards that the Board of Elections had given out, and they did a dump of all the names,” said Loretta Haggard, a volunteer with the Democratic Voter Protection Effort who was outside Ursa’s on election day. “I think that they should have been put on an inactive list.”
Senior Liz Nylund was in line at the South 40 polling place because she voted there in 2008. She had moved since then, but was hoping that the people working there would help her.
The girl in front of her was in the same situation and had voted on the South 40 as recently as 2009.
“[The supervisors at the South 40 polling place] were trying to find her in the system and they couldn’t find her,” Nylund said of the other girl in line. “They told her she couldn’t vote today.”
The poll workers were told by someone at the Board of Election Commissioners Tuesday morning not to give out any provisional ballots, according to Polly Guth, a supervisor at the South 40 polling place.Phone calls made to the board of election were not answered. When the editor of the StudLife Kate Gaertner went to the polling place to investigate and ask questions, the police were called and she was escorted away:
These orders were reversed when the poll workers asked again at around 4:30 p.m.
According to Donahue, the Board of Election Commissioners is investigating why no provisional ballots were given out earlier in the day.
“We are doing an investigation of that comment here at our office,” Donahue said.
She explained that she got a call at around 5:10 p.m. Tuesday that students were being turned away, they weren't allowed to cast a vote, and weren't being offered the option to fill out a provisional ballot. She called a Washington University adjunct professor and voters' rights attorney, Denise Lieberman.The Washington University dorm area is also in Missouri's Third Congressional District, where Congressman Russ Carnahan won a close race against Ed Martin. Students at Wash U overwhelmingly vote Democratic:
"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.
This is not the first time students at Washington University have been disenfranchised. In 2002, poll workers also refused to give students provisional ballots. In 2004, students were inexplicably only allowed to use 3 out of 13 available voting machines, which led to 2 hour waits. In 2006, students who were registered to vote were also left off voter rolls. In 2006, when some students went to the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners office, where they could cast a regular ballot, Joseph Goeke, the current Republican Director of the St. Louis County Board of elections, originally told them to go back to their polling location then said they'd have to stand outside because they were "rowdy."
The St. Louis County Board of Elections is also no stranger to sketchy events off-campus. In 2008, there were ridiculously long lines and voting problems in areas with high African-American populations. Goeke ignored election protection activists who told him that the county was not providing enough ballots and claimed to have not known about 6 hour waits in one of his polling locations until he spoke with a Post-Dispatch reporter at 4 PM. In 2006, the County Board of Elections combined four precincts into one location in Democratic University City, resulting in four hour waits.
With a razor thin margin of 172 votes in the original voting tallies (and with provisional ballots still needing to be counted), this incident needs to be seriously investigated.