Low turnout leads to long election day in Jefferson City

Rev. Vicky Bundy puts out more 'I Voted' stickers Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, after finally going through the first batch early in the morning. As predicted, voter turnout was very low but the polling place workers were vigilant about keeping supplies stocked and neat.
Rev. Vicky Bundy puts out more 'I Voted' stickers Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, after finally going through the first batch early in the morning. As predicted, voter turnout was very low but the polling place workers were vigilant about keeping supplies stocked and neat.

Editor's Note: For Aug. 3, 2021, election results, see Jefferson City voters approve sales tax renewal.


Barely an hour and a half into Tuesday's special election, poll workers stood up, stretched and began walking about.

The four workers at St. Joseph Cathedral Undercroft - where voters from Ward 3, Precinct 1 cast ballots - were gearing up for a long, slow day.

By 7:30 a.m., voters had cast only 12 ballots to consider extending a Jefferson City sales tax. Polls had opened at 6 a.m.

Sitting behind a folding table in the site, poll worker Ken Kuebler kept an eye trained on the parking lot outside.

"It's going to pick up," Kuebler said as one side of his mouth turned up in a smile. "Here comes one now."

Ray Klapmeyer, an election judge at American Legion Post 5, said he had a quiet election day.

The American Legion, where voters from Ward 5, Precinct 2 vote, had a total of 60 voters by about 1 p.m.

Klapmeyer said the American Legion election judges felt like they had a little time on their hands, and ran the math to create a projection of total voters they expected to see Tuesday based on the hourly rate voters were coming in - they expected about 100.

"We'll see how our calculations come out," Klapmeyer said.

There are a total of 1,857 registered voters in the precinct.

Roughly 30 percent of registered voters participated in the election last April, but Klapmeyer said he was expecting 5-6 percent to vote Tuesday.

"Some of the voters have commented that there wasn't a great deal of publicity about the election," Klapmeyer said.

Klapmeyer, who hadn't worked a single-issue election before, said it was uncommon to have a single item ballot for a single jurisdiction.

"It's a single issue for just the city," Klapmeyer said. "Most other elections you're going to have either countywide, statewide or national and with multiple issues."

Klapmeyer said the four poll workers, including himself, were passing the time amid the trickle of voters with casual conversation and by sanitizing pens and voting areas to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Voters said they were hitting the polls as they always do on election day.

Richard Kolb said he never misses a chance to vote.

"I gripe about the issues a lot, so it only makes sense for me to vote on them," Kolb said.

He said he didn't think the sales tax issue was particularly important.

Much like bigger elections, 10 voting booths stood near the election judges at the St. Joseph Cathedral Undercroft, awaiting use.

The poll workers (election judges) can become very busy, especially in the Undercroft, said Janet Rademan, another poll worker.

However, everybody involved in Tuesday's election understood this would not be one of those days. Workers brought reading materials. Election officials had only left workers with one machine - known as a "Poll Pad."

Poll Pads (iPads) are used to check in voters, see whether they have received or voted a mail ballot, and direct them to their correct polling place, according to verified voting.org. In jurisdictions where voter identification is required to be checked at the polling places, the built-in iPad camera can be used to scan a voter's identification.

"A lot of times, even with two machines, it can be busy," Kuebler said. "The day gets very long. It's a 15-hour day, and there's no official break time."

Rademan said it was the first time she could remember there being only one issue on a ballot.

"It's kind of unusual," she added.

At the Capital West Christian Church Events Center, the three poll workers read books, filled out crossword puzzles and tried to stay awake as they awaited voters - although this polling place had a better turnout than others, according to the poll workers.

The polling place - where voters from Ward 2, Precinct 3 cast ballots - had 95 voters by 1 p.m. Ambrose Buechter, a poll worker at this location, said poll workers at other local polling places told him their turnout was much lower.

"Typically, this precinct has a better turnout than most of them," Buechter said.

Officials anticipated a very sparse turnout for the election. Those voters who did reach the polls early said they did so for their community.

The single issue under consideration was whether to continue Jefferson City's half-cent capital improvements sales tax - which funds sidewalks, road repairs and cooperative projects with Cole County. The tax has been approved six consecutive times (every five years). It is expected to bring in about $28 million over the next five years.

A single issue isn't what Debbie Bernsen's preference would have been, she said.

"I'd rather there have been more issues to vote on," she said.

Pat Behen held a similar view. He suggested consolidating multiple issues in an election is a better use of resources.

They were among a number of voters who said they may have forgotten the election if not for reminders from neighbors and signs alongside the polling sites.

Gina and Matt Connor were among early voters in the Undercroft.

"I think it's important for us to support our community," Gina Connor said.

Matt Connor nodded in agreement, and emphasized most U.S. adults have the right to take part in their government and that they should exercise it.

"We have to understand that we don't just vote for the big things," he said. "Smaller elections are important too. People just do not worry too much about the smaller (issues)."

It all adds up, Gina Connor said. If people don't get out and vote in smaller elections, the community suffers.

At the Miller Performing Arts Center - Ward 2, Precinct 1 - 26 people had cast their ballots by 3 p.m. Poll workers said the trickle was slow, averaging about one person every 25 minutes.

Nina Kiekhaefer said coming out to vote is an important way to support the community.

"We need to support our community," she said. "I always support the sales tax. It's such an easy way to be supportive and get the community the things they need."