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St. Louis County Offers Curbside Voting At Satellite Sites After Advocates Call For Change

Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Board of Elections originally offered curbside voting only at its headquarters in St. Ann during the absentee voting period, but now offers the service at all satellite voting locations.

Updated Oct. 30 with St. Louis County’s new curbside policy

Missouri voting rights advocates and St. Louis County Election officials have negotiated an agreement to offer curbside voting at satellite locations during the final days of absentee voting.

Lawyers from the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition and Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services sent a letter to St. Louis County officials on Thursday urging leaders to expand curbside voting after receiving multiple complaints from voters.

St. Louis County previously had not been offering the service at its four satellite locations to voters with disabilities. The county Board of Elections headquarters in St. Ann was the only location where voters could cast ballots curbside.

Now, St. Louis County will offer curbside voting on Saturday and Monday at all satellite locations, according to Eric Fey, the county’s Democratic director of elections. Despite St. Ann being a far drive for some voters, Fey said curbside voting at the main office will still be faster for voters wanting to cast a ballot curbside.

The compromise prevents a potential legal battle and is the result of relationships built between advocacy organizations and election officials, said Denise Lieberman, general counsel for the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition.

“Voter advocates and election officials [should] work together to ensure that all people will have access to the voting process,” she said.

The City of St. Louis and Jefferson County still do not offer curbside voting at their satellite sites.

Original story from Oct. 27:
St. Louis-area election officials have opened satellite voting sites to help thousands of absentee voters cast ballots before Nov. 3, Election Day, but some voting rights advocates say that county election authorities aren’t doing enough to accommodate voters with physical disabilities.

On Election Day, voters who are unable to stand in line are permitted by Missouri law to vote curbside at polling sites. But that same right isn’t afforded voters at these satellite locations, according to a spokesperson with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.

Representatives from the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, Missouri League of Women Voters and Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services said they’ve all heard from voters who have been turned away from satellite voting sites for asking to cast a ballot curbside.

“It is very, very frustrating for a voter to think they were going to vote, to have a plan and then find out ‘Oh, that's not going to work,’ and then try to rejigger how they can safely vote,” said Jean Dugan, executive director of the Missouri League of Women Voters.

St. Louis and St. Louis County have each opened four satellite voting locations. Jefferson County has opened two. This is the first time that any of the counties have provided satellite voting sites for people to cast absentee ballots in person ahead of Election Day.

Rhonda Holstien waits in her car to vote curbside at the St. Louis County Board of Elections in St. Ann on Oct. 27. The yellow poles mark parking spots reserved for curbside voting.
Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
Rhonda Holstien waits in her car to vote curbside at the St. Louis County Board of Elections in St. Ann on Tuesday. The yellow poles mark parking spots reserved for curbside voting.

Because voters can only cast absentee ballots at the satellite locations, those offices are not held to the same legal requirements to provide curbside voting as Election Day polling sites are, said Democratic Director of St. Louis County Elections Eric Fey.

Satellite sites were not designed to accommodate curbside voting, presenting logistics issues, Fey said.

“Curbside voting is very labor intensive and takes up a lot of real estate,” Fey said, adding that most of his satellite sites have limited parking spaces.

For a curbside ballot to be cast, a bipartisan team of election workers must bring a ballot outside and assist the voter with filling it out, if needed.

County board of election headquarters are the only places where voters can cast absentee ballots curbside before Election Day. In St. Louis County, voters who want to cast ballots curbside must travel to the board of election at Northwest Plaza in St. Ann.

Requiring voters to travel to the county board of election to cast an absentee ballot curbside is discriminatory and could violate other disability civil rights laws, said Susan Eckles, managing attorney for the Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services.

“Voters without disabilities are not required to only go to St. Ann,” Eckles said. “They can vote at other locations.”

Around 200 St. Louis County voters per day have cast absentee ballots curbside at the St. Ann headquarters since last Thursday, said Republican Director of St. Louis County Elections Rick Stream.

Those same St. Louis County satellite sites that Fey said present logistical puzzles are required to offer curbside voting on Nov. 3. All are Election Day polling sites.

St. Louis County is offering to bring ballots to people in the hospital or who are confined at home due to the coronavirus. To request for a bipartisan team to deliver a ballot, email either proof of test results, hospitalization or health department quarantine orders to boecabsentee@stlouisco.com.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.