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Missouri Voters Report Long Lines, Broken Machines And Confusion Over Photo ID Law

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
Voters outside Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday.

A lengthy ballot, broken machines, address mix-ups and confusion over showing photo IDs slowed lines at Missouri polling places Tuesday, leading to waits of up to an hour for voters revved up by the contentious midterm election.

In the morning, reports surfaced about poll workers incorrectly insisting that voters show a photo ID. The confusion was brought on by a circuit judge’s decision about the state's voter ID law just two weeks prior to Election Day.

But by noon, concerns shifted to reports of malfunctioning machines, causing Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to reassure voters via Twitter. 

"Your vote will be counted! Please follow poll workers’ instructions and know your vote is secure!" Ashcroft wrote in a tweet.

Joshua Faust voted in an eastern Kansas City polling place about 7 a.m., but left without knowing whether his ballot counted.

“The ballot machines were down where they would scan the ballots in and we were told to either leave it there, and they’ll scan them later, or to wait until the machines were fixed," Faust said.

Voters ins some locations faced waits from 25 minutes to up to an hour. A polling place in Platte County had a power outage. 

About those photo IDs

Lawyers monitoring the election told KCUR that clerks were telling voters they must have photo ID, even though the October decision made it clear that's not the case. 

The law, which took effect in June 2017,  asks voters to show a state-issued ID. If they don't have one, the law says voters can provide an alterative proof of identity, like a utility bill or bank statement, and then sign a sworn statement. But the circuit court ruling said voters didn't have to sign the affidavit, which the judge called "contradictory and misleading."

Lawyers for Missouri Election Protection, a group of pro bono lawyers monitoring the elections and taking voter calls, sent several letters to various polls by 10 a.m., reminding the election workers that a photo ID was not required, according to Katie Cronin, a lawyer with the group.

“The phones have been ringing — pretty consistently — off the hook,” Cronin said.

The Missouri Secretary of State’s office said nothing has changed from the August primary, and spokeswoman Maura Browning added: "I think we’re going to see a lot of questionable complaints.”

The three options, Browning said, when it comes to ID for voting are: 

  1. Provide a Missouri-issued driver or non-driver license, passport or military ID; 
  2. Provide a secondary form of identification, such as a paycheck or bank statement; 
  3. Cast a provisional ballot if you are a registered voter without any of the above.

Taylor Fritz was at the Legacy Park Community Center in Lee’s Summit by 6:30 a.m. and waited 40 minutes to vote. He was told he had to show a photo ID – but he knew that his voter registration card was enough.
“The whole point is: this should be a valid ID," he said of his voter registration card. "So those who don’t have a state-issued ID or some other form of ID on them are going to get turned away here. Which they shouldn’t.”

Address problems in Jackson County

By the end of Tuesday, Jackson County voters who had moved in the past year were reporting confusion at the polls as workers were still working with their former addresses.

Rachel Bond was at her polling place at 66th and Holmes at 6:30 a.m. But a poll worker with an iPad told her that she was in the wrong place and should be back at her old address in Midtown. That's despite Bond updating her address with election officials and bringing an updated ID. She was given a provisional ballot.

"As a voter, to me, anytime you're not able to just submit your ballot, it's disconcerting because you just want to know that your vote counts," she said.

Others at her polling place were also given provisional ballots and one man who said he had to go to work left without voting at all, Bond said.

Issues before Election Day

In Kansas City, one woman said she was barred from casting a partially completed absentee ballot at the Board of Elections office in Union Station.

Margot Sims, a 72-year-old Democrat who said she’s been voting in Kansas City for 50 years, said she filled out her absentee ballot on Oct. 24, but didn’t vote on every issue. Sims said she felt she had not researched every issue and candidate well enough.

When she tried to put her ballot through the election machine, it was spit out, she said. A poll worker then told her that she had to fill out every issue or it wouldn’t count; Sims did and the ballot was accepted. 

“I was shocked,” Sims said. “I don’t always vote for everything on a ballot and that has never happened to me before. There is so much voter suppression and so many dirty tricks going on all around the country, I just am very suspicious.”

Kansas City Board of Elections Director Shawn Kiefer told KCUR in an email that the report was false.

“My people have NOT been giving out that information and all votes will be counted no matter what is left blank,” he wrote.

This story started as a tip from ProPublica's Electionland project, which monitors voting problems around the country. If you had trouble voting, or if you saw something you want to tell us about, here’s how.

Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR and is on Twitter @peggyllowe.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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