Getting more people to participate in elections is one of the biggest jobs a county clerk faces.
The county clerk is the main election official for the county, overseeing the operations of voting precincts and ensuring accurate vote counts are taken.
The candidates in the Nov. 6 general election for Cole County clerk have their own ideas about what should be done to increase voter participation.
Incumbent Republican Steve Korsmeyer, first elected to the office in 2014, said once you get them registered to vote, the most important thing to do is make it convenient for residents to cast their ballots.
Korsmeyer is up against Green Party candidate Ann Moeckli.
"My future plans are to have a voting center to make it easier for people to go vote," Korsmeyer said. "I want a center in Jefferson City where anybody can go vote. If they're coming to work in Jefferson City instead of going back to their polling place to vote, they could come to the center and vote."
State law allows for as many as four "central polling locations" in an election jurisdiction such as a county for the "accessibility to vote for those disabilities, the elderly and any other registered voters," according to the Missouri Secretary of State's Office. They have been used in Greene and St. Louis counties. The local election authority may designate such a site to be open on Election Day only.
Moeckli wants to make sure the disabled and elderly don't lose out on their right to vote.
"I would make sure that those who are homebound know that they can be put on what is called the permanent disabled list," she said. "That allows the clerk to send out an absentee ballot for each election by mail."
Cole County's voter turnout was 10.45 percent in the April 2018 municipal election and 39.67 percent in the August primary election. The county's absentee votes totaled 457 in April and 1,472 in August.
Korsmeyer said the clerk's office has made recent voter registration efforts at Lincoln University, Jefferson City High School and Blair Oaks High School in an effort to get young people interested in voting. He said they saw more than 20 students each day register to vote at these events.
Moeckli said she hopes to get the younger generation more interested in voting by possibly offering scholarships for young people to work during elections and see the process.
Another tool Korsmeyer believes would help voter participation is legislative approval of "no excuse" absentee voting — meaning voters could apply for and receive a ballot to submit by mail without providing a reason for being absent from his or her polling place on Election Day. He said such efforts this past legislative session were unsuccessful.
Moeckli agrees "no excuse" absentee voting would benefit voters. She also believes some specific areas in Cole County would benefit from a change in polling locations to make voting more convenient for residents. There are 28 voting locations in the county, with the last changes coming prior to the April municipal election.
"I'd like to make it so some voters who currently live in Wardsville don't have to cast a vote in St. Thomas," she said. "We could do that by splitting the Osage and St. Thomas precinct (which currently votes at the St. Thomas Knights of Columbus Hall on Route B). I think we could also consider the same thing for the Clark/Eugene precinct so some voters living in Brazito don't have to go over to vote at Cole R-5 in Eugene."
Korsmeyer also believes Missouri joining 24 other states in the Electronic Registration Information Center will streamline the voter registration process. Endorsed by the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities, ERIC is a nonprofit corporation governed by a board of directors made up of member states. The center uses information from motor vehicle departments, Social Security Administration records and other databases to compare voters across states. Korsmeyer said it's a streamlined process of verifying voter eligibility.
"To get a big turnout at the polls, we have to make it convenient to register and cast ballots," Korsmeyer said. "They will come out if we do that."
"I'd look at what could be done to give free rides to polls because that would also be a way to get more people out," Moeckli said. "You need to also think about people in hospitals and making sure they're able to vote. You never know what life will throw at you, so the clerk's office should be prepared for that, too."