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Since 2004, St. Louis Has Purged 25 Percent Of Its Voters

A touch-screen voting machine. Most voters in St. Louis County are expected to use the touch-screen machines in tomorrow's municipal elections.
(via Flickr/lowjumpingfrog)
A touch-screen voting machine. Most voters in St. Louis County are expected to use the touch-screen machines in tomorrow's municipal elections.

Over the past 10 years since it faced two federal lawsuits, the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners has quietly cut 75,000 people off of its voter rolls.

That represents more than a quarter of the 281, 316 voters on the city's rolls in 2004. St. Louis' voter list now totals 206,349, according to state election records.

The city’s Republican elections director, Gary Stoff, says none of the excised voters appears to have been an active voter. He suspects most were people who had moved or died and whose names had simply been languishing on the city’s voter rolls for years.

But the reduction in St. Louis' voter rolls appears to be by far the most dramatic action taken by the 29 Missouri counties – the city of St. Louis is its own county – that were sued 10 years ago by the federal government because they had more people on their voter rolls than their entire voting-age population.

Most of those counties were in rural Missouri. Pemiscot County in the southeastern Bootheel, for example, had 20,076 on its voter rolls in 2004, even though its voting-age population, according to federal census records, totaled only 13,842. That amounted to a 45 percent overage, one of the state’s highest.

The federal suit also had accused the Missouri secretary of state’s office of being at fault as well, even though state election officials have no jurisdiction over local election authorities.

Several years later,  the federal suit was dropped for various reasons and the state declared victory.

Jason Kander
Credit Missouri secretary of state website
Secretary of State Jason Kander

Still, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander prompted a new look at the counties in question when he issued a release last week noting that all 29 now have cleaner – and generally smaller -- voter rolls.  None has rolls larger than the vote-age population.

Kander's spokeswoman Laura Swinford said the staff discovered the achievement as it assembled the final numbers from the November 2014 election.

Kander’s announcement also comes as the Missouri General Assembly prepares once again to consider bills to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment requiring that all voters show a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot.

Backers said the requirement would prevent voter fraud. Critics say that requirement doesn’t address any problems that counties have with faulty voter rolls or with absentee ballots – the primary source of fraud. 

Of the 29 counties singled out after the 2004 election, only two – Boone and Christian – now have larger voter rolls. The two counties also have larger voting-age populations, compared to 10 years ago.

St. Louis election officials credit new technology

In St. Louis, Stoff says, the city has regularly cleaned the rolls since 2004.  The city’s Election Board sends postcards to all registered voters. Those whose cards are returned to the board as “undeliverable’’ often end up on the city’s “inactive voter’’ list.

Also on that list are people who haven’t voted in recent elections.

If people on the “inactive list’’ show up at the polls, they are allowed to vote. But they also are asked to verify their residence.

Of the 206,349 registered city voters listed by the state, Stoff said about 24,800 are on the “inactive’’ list.  That’s down from about 50,000 in 2000. That's when a federal lawsuit was filed because city polling places did not have ready access to the inactive list, prompting huge lines and chaos at the city's Election Board headquarters.

Now, all polling places have copies of the inactive lists so that such voters can be easily assisted if they show up.

The city also now gets regular lists of state death records to purge deceased voters from the rolls.  Stoff also gives some credit to the secretary of state’s arrangement with the U.S. Postal Service, which forwards national change of address forms filed by Missouri residents.

The secretary of state’s office also receives lists of deceased individuals from the federal Social Security Administration.

“I’m extremely confident’’ that the city’s voter rolls are now accurate, Stoff said. “We’ve progressed by leaps and bounds since 2000 and 2004.”

Other area counties weren’t targets of the federal lawsuit because their 2004 rolls were not as inflated. But in St. Louis County, new Democratic elections director Eric Fey said a lot has been done to clean rolls of people who have died or who no longer reside in the county.

As of Jan. 31, Fey reported, St. Louis County – the state’s largest voting jurisdiction – had 679,055 active voters and 74,578 on its inactive list.


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