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St. Louis-area election officials see early voting surge thanks to new no-excuse rule

Mayor Tishaura Jones casts an early ballot on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, leading up to the midterms at the Julia Davis Library in St. Louis’ Penrose neighborhood.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones casts an early ballot on Thursday at the Julia Davis Library in St. Louis’ Penrose neighborhood.

St. Louis County Democratic Elections Director Eric Fey said Monday that county residents have taken to a new two-week, no-excuse early voting period.

“It's really rocketed ahead now of 2018,” Fey said. “Once the no-excuse period started, and we opened up our satellite offices, the turnout increased dramatically.”

Through Saturday, St. Louis County has received 19,901 absentee ballots through the mail and more than 46,071 ballots through in-person voting. That total is nearly 8,000 more than the roughly 58,000 votes cast early in 2018. That was the last time the state had a midterm election; it also featured a nationally prominent U.S. Senate race, between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley.

St. Louis and St. Charles County election officials said Monday that their early voting numbers are exceeding those of 2018. Ben Borgmeyer, the city’s Democratic election director, said about 12,000 people had already voted in person before Monday. He added that about 4,000 people had sent mail-in absentee ballots as of last Thursday.

“This is the highest number we've ever had, excluding November of 2020,” Borgmeyer said.

St. Charles County Elections Director Kurt Bahr said about 18,446 people have voted early thus far, compared to 16,379 in 2018. Bahr said that people in his fast-growing county are embracing the ability to vote early for any reason.

“A number of people just have said, ‘I'm doing it because I can’ or they're like, ‘Oh, well, now that I know this is a possibility, I'm gonna do it this way all the time,” Bahr said. “So I think that we're gonna see an increasing trend of early voters in a two-week span of time.”

The big question, though, is whether the early voting period will increase the overall turnout. It’s possible that with more people voting early, there could be fewer people at the polls on Tuesday — meaning that voters are just choosing when they want to vote, rather than the early voting period bringing more people to the polls.

“Is this people just getting it out of the way and we may have fewer people vote tomorrow than we would have otherwise?” Fey said. “Or does this portend some very high turnout that most people were not maybe expecting?”

Fey also said that absentee voting may not follow the same political patterns that occurred in 2020.

During that election cycle, absentee votes were primarily from Democratic voters. But Fey said St. Louis County’s satellite voting location in western St. Louis County has been busy thus far — much more so than sites in north St. Louis County. Western St. Louis County is historically Republican, while north St. Louis County is heavily Democratic.

“It looks like Republicans to some extent are comfortable with in-person early voting,” Fey said.

Meanwhile,the Illinois Board of Elections reports that nearly 1.2 million people have already voted. That includes 544,016 who cast ballots by mail and 632,447 who have voted early in person. Illinois has more relaxed early voting rules than Missouri.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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