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Absentee, early balloting is on the rise in the St. Louis area

Rachel Dalske, of Florissant, votes at the St. Louis County Board Of Elections on Oct. 25, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Rachel Dalske, of Florissant, votes at the St. Louis County Board Of Elections on Thursday afternoon.

St. Louis-area election officials report enthusiasm among Democratic and Republican voters,  fueling a dramatic uptick in absentee balloting.

Eric Fey, St. Louis County’s Democratic elections director, expects the final absentee tally to come close to the county’s huge 2010 total of about 25,000 absentee votes. The county provides the largest bloc of votes in the state.

“Absentees this election has been interesting,” Fey said. “It started off slow, with really no increase over the last midterm election in 2014. Over the last week or so, it has really accelerated.”

With just over a week to go, Fey said more than 16,000 county voters have cast absentee ballots – and thousands more mail-in ballots are expected. Most of those votes have been cast at the Election Board’s headquarters in St. Ann, 715 Northwest Plaza Drive.

In addition, beginning Monday, the county is opening three satellite election offices to handle the final blitz of expected absentee voters.

Ballots can be cast at:

— West County Government Center, 74 Clarkson Wilson Centre

— South County Government Center, 4454 Lemay Ferry Road

— Center of Clayton, 50 Gay Ave.

Fey said the largest number of absentee voters, so far, have come from Webster Groves, Creve Coeur, Ladue, Des Peres and Town and Country -- a politically diverse group of communities.

In Republican-leaning St. Charles County, elections chief Rich Chrismer said that voter enthusiasm has been evident for weeks. “St. Charles County registrations and absentees are almost like a presidential election year,” he said.

Chrismer estimated that absentee-ballot traffic is now up to more than 500 voters a day. Chrismer said voters are particularly interested in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race, and several ballot measures.

In the city of St. Louis, Republican elections chief Gary Stoff said that absentee balloting was lackluster until the last week. “Now it’s brisk,’’ he said.

So far, about 1,200 people have cast absentee ballots at the city’s Election Board headquarters downtown. Stoff said his office also has received close to 3,000 mail-in, absentee ballots from elderly or disabled voters. Roughly 300 absentee ballots have been requested from city residents in the military and serving outside the state.

St. Clair County early voting may set record

In Illinois, there is no absentee voting, since the state put in place no-fault early voting, and voting by mail, four years ago.

St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Thomas Holbrook, who oversees the county’s elections, says its voters are on pace to possibly exceed the early voting/vote-by-mail numbers of 2016.

“This appears to be one of the highest off-year elections in my lifetime,’’ Holbrook said.

So far, the county – which takes in Belleville and East St. Louis – has received over 5,000 early-voting ballots. And that’s with more than a week is left to go, Holbrook said.

All told, in 2014, almost 6,200 St. Clair County voters cast early ballots.

The county has a number of early-voting sites.

St. Clair County has received 13,270 applications to vote by mail. That compares to just under 11,500 vote-by-mail ballots cast in 2016.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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