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Judge won't order a do-over for Berkeley mayor's race

St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners Democratic Director Eric Fey presents before a committee of the whole meeting of the County Council on how April 5's ballot shortages happened.
Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners Democratic Director Eric Fey presents before a committee of the whole meeting of the County Council on how April 5's ballot shortages happened.

Updated on Aug. 11 with judge's ruling – Berkeley residents will not have a do-over election for mayor.

The St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners asked a judge in May to order a new election in the north St. Louis County city. It was one of many county municipalities that experienced ballot shortages during elections earlier this year

But Judge Maura McShane on Wednesday declined to grant the election board’s request. St. Louis County Democratic Elections director Eric Fey said the Board won’t appeal McShane’s ruling.

Meanwhile, a judge hasn’t decided whether to order another election for an aldermanic race in Sunset Hills. 

Original story from May 10: 

Voters may get a do-over in a couple municipal races after the April 5 election saw major ballot shortages at more than 60 polling places throughout St. Louis County.

The St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners voted Tuesday to instruct its lawyers to ask a court whether those ballot issues justify new elections for the mayor of Berkeley and the 2nd Ward alderman in Sunset Hills.

"Under state law, there's a provision that allows an election authority to ask for a new election if it feels like there were errors to an extent that it would have affected the election," said Eric Fey, the board's Democratic director.

If a judge approves the election redo, Fey said, the board hopes voting could be held during the Aug. 2 primary. However, he cautioned that even with court approval, ballots must be certified by a May 24 deadline to make the August election.

Fey's Republican counterpart, Gary Fuhr, said the problems' impacts on four municipal elections were scrutinized by a senior representative of the board, who conducted an "intensive study."

“They talked to all the poll workers, they collected all the data and we presented these reports to board," Fuhr said. "The board analyzed the reports, and their determination was these are the two races that could have been affected.”

Fuhr said the study also found that while the Ward 1 race in Town and Country experienced ballot problems, it did not merit a new election because no voters were turned away.

Fuhr and Fey, who was suspended for two weeks without pay over the ballot problems, presented more detailed information about the April mishaps to the St. Louis County Council during an afternoon committee of the whole meeting Tuesday.

Many council members questioned how the decision was made for poll workers to use photo-copied ballots to record votes or to take down voters' contact information to call them if the closed polls were given extended hours by a judge, which they eventually were. Fey said those orders came from his office "in the heat of the moment" and as an "extraordinary procedure."

Still, he said it might be worth exploring the possibility of detailing procedures for such unusual circumstances.

"Organizations often have disaster recovery plans, something in that regard. We do have worst-case scenario plans for weather, emergencies, acts of God — we may try to expand that policy into the realm of ballot shortages and things like that," he said.

Fey also outlined for the council several recommendations made by board secretary John Maupin at an election board meeting earlier that day. Those proposals, which will be considered at the board's next monthly meeting, include:

  • The final ballot order, after being checked and proofed, will be signed off by both election directors.
  • Every polling place should be equipped with at least one electronic voting machine, no matter what type of election it is.
  • The board would ask the state legislature to move the presidential primary date because "that was a large contributing factor, running two elections concurrently."
  • A "merit-type hiring system" should be used for employees.

St. Louis County Council member Colleen Wasinger said hearing those recommendations to ensure future elections go smoothly was "productive and meaningful." Even though 23 percent of the polling places in her district were affected by irregularities, including Sunset Hills, she said the call for new elections was a “step in the right direction.”
"So it was definitely good to hear directly from them and their recommended courses of action as to how to improve, from changing how they disperse the electronic machines to perhaps revisiting personnel requirements and how people are hired," she said. "I look forward to continued improvement, obviously. I mean we all do."

But other council members expressed concern that new elections would not fix what had happened in April, nor prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. Hazel Erby represents Berkeley, where one new election is being requested. She said many of her constituents were disenfranchised.

“That will satisfy those two municipalities, but that won't satisfy everybody who didn't get to cast their vote that day," Erby said. "There are people who were turned away two to three times. Every vote was not cast. We have trouble now getting people to come and buy into the process, and those are the very reasons."

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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