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Election officials sift through 198 provisional votes in tight 24th District race

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 8, 2010 - The St. Louis County Election Board's staff is examining 198 provisional ballots in the 24th District state Senate contest, which amount to more than the 176 votes between Republican winner John Lamping and losing Democrat Barbara Fraser.

Democratic elections director Joe Donahue said the 198 are among 1,500 provisional ballots cast countywide. He expects it should take this week to go through all of them and determine which ones count and which ones don't. Donahue added that the Election Board is focusing first on the 24th District because of the narrow victory and Fraser's plans to request a recount.

Donahue did, however, take issue with reports that some Washington University students were improperly denied provisional ballots when they showed up at a polling place that serves the campus' South 40 dorms.

The account he had received from all the poll workers, said Donahue, "totally contradicted" what the students said earlier to the news media.

Those students no longer were on the rolls, Donahue said, because they had moved off campus to University City or elsewhere. Even if they had cast a provisional ballot at the South 40 site, he said, the votes would not have counted because such students were at the wrong polling place -- and actually lived outside the 24th District.

He asserted that some students had gotten unruly, forcing the poll workers to call Washington University's security officers. No charges were filed. (Click here to read student Adam Shriver's starkly different accountof the incident.)

Provisional ballots are cast by people who do not initially show up on voter rolls at a particular polling place. But the votes are counted only if the person is verified to have been qualified to vote, and that they cast their ballot at the proper polling place.

Poll workers are supposed to direct the person to the correct polling place, if it could be determined on election day that they were on the rolls but at the wrong location. That's why such people often show up at the Election Board headquarters, but that is always deemed to be a correct polling location if there is doubt as to where the person should vote, and they later are determined to be properly registered.

Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with the Advancement Project (a voting rights group) and coordinator of the Missouri Election Protection effort, said today that she and allied lawyers are investigating the matter "to determine whether proper procedures were followed." She contends that the students should have been allowed to cast a provisional ballot, regardless of whether it would later be counted.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.