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COVID-19 is changing voting in St. Louis County: 5 things you need to know

Election day is a week away, don't forget your ID or your mask

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — With one week until the Aug. 4 Missouri primary, voters are making their decisions on everything from congressional representatives to Medicaid expansion to St. Louis County Executive.

Like so many other things about 2020, though, this election will look a lot different than in years past. Officials made changes to ensure safety for staff and voters that they expect to keep in place through the general election as well. Here are five things to know before heading to the polls in St. Louis County:

No more polling place confusion 

Registered voters will still be assigned a voting location, as per state law, but to accommodate different situations and disperse crowds, you can vote at any St. Louis County polling place on election day.

“We purchased new voting equipment late last year in 2019,” said Democratic Director of Elections Eric Fey. “Because it's a ballot on-demand system, which means the ballot is printed on demand for the voter when they arrive at the polling place, we can print a ballot for any precinct in St. Louis County at any polling place.”

The election officials said they think this will help alleviate problems that may arise with voting locations, which are often churches or private community centers, deciding last minute to cancel hosting voting due to COVID-19 concerns. Voters will also be able to go to less-crowded voting locations in some cases, or locations that are more convenient—which is one reason why this is a change that might stick around for good.

“This is a great step forward. It gives people the flexibility if they can't get to their polling place because of work or something like that,” said Rick Stream, Republican Director of Elections.

Face masks are required

While you still can’t wear political messaging or insignia around polling places on election day, in this case, masks are not considered political. Anyone who wants to go inside a polling place to cast a ballot must wear one; they will be provided for anyone who doesn’t have a mask of their own.

“If somebody is uncomfortable wearing a mask in the polling place, that they can vote curbside from their car. That's a procedure that's set up in state law. Or they can come here to the board of elections and will vote them outside, with what is essentially a polling place outside. We aren’t trying to make this a political issue. Our board felt very strongly that for the safety of everyone, that voters should wear masks in the polling place. And we still want to make the process work for everybody,” said Fey.

“I don't think we're going to get much push back at all on this,” said Stream. “I think people are going to comply with it.”

Along with a mask, as always, bring your ID to vote.

If want to vote absentee, plan ahead—way ahead 

Because of delays in postage that mean your ballot could take up to 10 days to arrive. If you find yourself ballot-in-hand with just a few days before election day, officials encourage you to bring your ballot in person to a board of elections location, or vote absentee in person, early.

“As a last resort, if somebody finds themselves with their absentee ballot on election day, they can still take that to the polling place. They will have to surrender it and vote a new ballot, but they will still be able to vote,” said Fey.

The Board of Elections office is at 725 Northwest Plaza in St. Ann. Satellite locations:

St. Louis County Library, Mid-County Branch, 7821 Maryland Ave. in Clayton
North County Recreation Complex, 2577 Redman Rd.
South County Government Center Keller Plaza, 4554 Lemay Ferry Rd.
West County Government Center, 74 Clarkson Wilson Centre in Chesterfield

Weekday hours are 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, August 1, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m, and August 3, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Curbside notary service will be offered at the Board of Elections Office if your mail in ballot requires it.

Election officials plan to have fully-staffed polling places 

Election judges are critical to the voting process. After hundreds canceled last-minute due to COVID-19 concerns in March, many of these safety changes were made with them in mind.

“We're making it as safe as we believe we can within the monetary restraints that we have to make this thing work,” said Fey. “I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll have a pretty good procedure on election day, that people can feel reasonably safe when they go to vote and polling place.”

Along with safety, election security is top of mind 

Election officials worked to ensure people can be confident their vote will count on election day.

“We want voters to know that whether they prefer to vote by absentee ballot or at the polling place, we want both processes to be safe and secure. The absentee ballots go through a rigorous validation process where bipartisan teams of election judges validate all of those ballots back here at the office before they're counted. And then at the polling place, obviously, there are bipartisan teams of election judges at the polling place, and we have all those safety measures in place,” said Fey. “So we want voters to know that under Missouri law, either they're allowed to choose either process, whatever process is right for them. And we want to make both processes work. And we are optimistic that that will be the case come election day.”

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.. To look up a sample ballot, visit stlouisco.com/yourgovernment/ElectionBoard.

In Missouri, you have until Oct. 7 to register for the general election, Oct. 6 in Illinois. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.