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Targeted turnouts could spell victory in Tuesday's election

Proposition B asks to voters to allow their local city or county to continue collecting sales tax on cars bought out of state
File photo | St. Louis Public Radio
Those headed to the polls in St. Louis in 2012 will be voting in an election run by a different St. Louis Board of Elections. Three new members were named today by Gov. Jay Nixon. (via Flickr/ Daniel Morrison)

(Updated 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 7)

In low turnout elections, organization matters.

The victors often are the ones who have the best crews of volunteers to pound on doors, circulate the fliers and make the phone calls needed to persuade their identified supportive voters to show up.

That help is especially important if the weather is poor. And rain arrived Tuesday morning with a vengeance, as predicted, as municipal and school elections are being held throughout the region.

Get-out-the vote preparations offer a backdrop to the predictions of St. Louis County’s Democratic elections director Eric Fey who says the signs indicate that this April’s turnout may not be much better than its predecessors.

If so, that means voter turnout of roughly 15 percent. By Tuesday afternoon, Fey wasn't sure the region would meet that low threshold. As rush hour began, Fey reported that turnout appeared to be "a steady trickle." And that was an improvement from the morning, when many polling places were empty during the worst of the region's storms.

In the city of St. Louis, Republican elections director Gary Stoff was even more pessimistic. "I would be pleased (and pleasantly surprised) if we hit 10 percent," Stoff said.

The primary city wards with sizable voter traffic, he explained, featured areas with special ballot measures, such as Lafayette Square's  Special Business District proposition."

Fey bases his county turnout concerns on the roughly 8,100 absentee ballots already cast before Election Day. “There just hasn’t been that much of an increase in demand for absentee ballots at least, and absentee ballots are normally a fairly good indicator of what’s going to happen on Election Day,’’ he said.

Still, Fey emphasizes that his estimates may not apply to Ferguson, where national organizations – and money – have poured in to aid some of the candidates for three seats on the six-person city council.

“Ferguson is such an extraordinary situation, it would be foolish to project what’s going to happen,’’ he said.

National eyes on Ferguson

The county’s latest figures show that Ferguson has 12,744 “active’’ voters – those who have verified addresses and have voted in recent elections. That’s up by 46 people since the voter-registration deadline of March 11, for people seeking to vote in this Tuesday’s election.

Because Ferguson is within St. Louis County, county residents can move into the city as late as Tuesday and still vote in the municipal election if they have proof of their change of address, Fey said.

Ferguson’s overall voter registration has increased by 4.5 percent – or roughly, 500 people -- since the Aug. 9 police shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. His death ignited months of protests and some violence. It also focused national and international attention on Ferguson’s local government.

Although about two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are African Americans, only one of the current six members on the city council is black. The rest are white.

The disparity is tied, in part, to the lack of minorities running for office in Ferguson, the higher percentage of African-Americans who are below voting age and lower voter turnout among African-Americans.

This time, three of the council’s six seats will be up for grabs. And at least one African-American is competing in each of the three wards.

Both candidates in the 3rd Ward contest are African American, so the council is guaranteed to get at least one additional minority member.

County Council seat at stake in south county

Fey predicts the voter turnout also may be slightly higher than normal for an April election in south St. Louis County. That’s because voters in the county’s 6th District will choose a replacement for Democrat Steve Stenger, who vacated the seat when he was elected the new county executive.

The contest is between Republican Tony Pousosa, currently an alderman in Green Park, and Democrat Kevin O’Leary of Oakville, who runs a bar.

Elsewhere in the region, key contests include battles for mayor in Florissant, Jennings, Brentwood and St. Charles. A handful of neighborhood and competitive ward elections also are at stake in St. Louis.

Yard signs for Ferguson City Council candidates sit outside of a home on April 6.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Yard signs for Ferguson City Council candidates sit outside of a home on April 6.

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