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Election officials warn of increased risk for mistakes in compressed window to prepare ballots

"We're sweating here," election officials say as state lawmakers debate new Congressional maps
Credit: KSDK

ST. LOUIS, Missouri — If you're a voter hoping to shape the balance of power in Congress in the midterms, you're still waiting for the Show Me State to 'show me' the maps.

Almost every other state in the nation has already finished drawing their Congressional redistricting lines, but Republican lawmakers with majorities in Jefferson City can't agree on precisely how — or how hard — to gerrymander the lines to their advantage. 

The last map resulted in a 6-2 Republican advantage. After the House adopted another map likely to produce a similar result on Monday night, State Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis) called the proposal "insulting" because it didn't allow Republicans a chance to vote on a map he thinks could create another Republican-leaning district and push an incumbent Democrat out of Congress.

If the legislature can't agree on a final map before this Friday, the courts will take over the power of the map-drawing pen, which could extend the process even longer.

While the primary election ends when polls close at 7 p.m. Aug. 2, the ballots start going out and voters can begin selecting candidates of their choice several weeks before then.

"The election starts 45 days before the election when military and overseas voters by federal law have to start receiving their ballots," St. Louis County's Democratic Director of Elections Rick Fey said, claiming his office needs to send absentee ballots out no later than June 17. "There is about a 3 to 4 week period prior to that for us to actually effectuate the new lines and to test the ballots and all of that kind of stuff."

Fey and his Republican counterpart, Director of Elections Rick Stream, oversee the balloting processes for nearly a million voters in St. Louis County, which is the single largest election authority in Missouri.

Staff members in their office are anxiously awaiting the final map lines from the legislature so they can accurately complete their work. 

"By this inaction, it's really putting the ability to effectuate the election in jeopardy," Fey said. 

In the meantime, where should candidates run their campaigns?

"That's a good question. They are running in the state of Missouri," Stream said, laughing.

Candidates can legally run in any district, but if they plan to represent the district after the results are final, they must move into that district. 

"Well, I think there’s a 7 to 1 map out there, but I also firmly believe that it will be taken to court," Stream said.

"The chaos that's coming out of Jeff City right now is disgraceful," Ben Samuels, a Democratic primary candidate running in Missouri's 2nd Congressional District said. "There's no other way to put it— really."

Samuels is one of three Democrats running in the Aug. 2 primary for a chance to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri). Wagner also faces a primary challenge. 

Samuels said the new candidates looking to make a name for themselves aren't quite sure which voters to target with their messages, which could come as a disadvantage for candidates who don't enjoy the power of the incumbency.

"If you don’t know where the district is and you don’t know where the lines are,  well there’s just more people that we have to be talking to on a regular basis," he said. "There are 750,000 people who live in a congressional district, give or take, in Missouri. There is an even bigger universe of people we need to talk to when we don’t know exactly where the district is going to be."

Other states have pushed late maps through at the last minute before, but it didn't always go well. 

"People ended up getting wrong ballots, people were voting in the wrong districts," Fey warned. "If anybody makes a mistake, we're all humans, that's exactly what can happen in this scenario."

"The longer they wait, the more difficult it's going to be," Stream added. "If we don't get that right here, they'll be voting for somebody in the wrong district."

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