Some voters confused by changes to polling locations, district boundaries

Bryan Stalder
Contributor


Tuesday, August 2 was the Missouri Primary Election. Voters were asked to select a ballot for the Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Constitutional Party and vote for candidates to run in the general election on November 8, 2022. Although this was a straightforward primary election, for some voters, there was confusion.


“Do you know where it is that we vote?” Northeast resident Grant Elliot reached out to his neighbor on Tuesday morning, the day of the election. In the previous election, Elliot’s polling location had been at Northeast High School, but he voted at Gladstone Elementary School for the presidential election in 2020. Prior to that, Elliot’s polling location had consistently been at Holy Cross Catholic Church on St. John Avenue.


Michael Bushnell, former owner of the Northeast News, has had a similarly confusing experience. “We voted at St. Anthony for years,” he said, “Then they moved us to Sons of Columbus, then Garrison Center during COVID, and then Sons Of Columbus again this time around.”


Changing polling locations is not uncommon. It happens for a number of reasons, such as venue availability and staffing capabilities. Lauri Ealom, Director of the Kansas City Election Board tells Northeast News: “We can use taxpayer funded spaces such as community centers, libraries, and public schools as polling locations, but buildings such as churches or assisted living facilities are private property and they’re not always made available to us.”


The Kansas City Election Board mails postcards to registered voters in advance of upcoming elections to remind voters where their polling precinct will be located, but sometimes people don’t receive these notices, or they fail to read them.


In the spring of 2020, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed an Executive Order rescheduling all municipal elections in the state from April 7 to June 2 due to the health and safety precautions being taken during the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Kansas City Election Board moved voting locations to larger venues such as school gymnasiums, community centers, cafeterias, and large meeting rooms to allow voters to spread out in accordance with social distancing guidelines.


For Elliot, his polling location has moved three times since then. “Typically I receive one of those little cards in the mail that tells me where I vote and I forgot,” he admits.


In addition to confusion caused by the health and safety precautions taken in 2020, states are constitutionally required to update their district maps every ten years using the latest census data. Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed the new district map approval earlier this year in May. That means many residents may not have moved, but their district boundaries did, and they’re no longer voting for candidates that may have represented them up until just a few months ago.


Many Northeast residents who had been represented in Missouri’s 19th MIssouri House of Representatives District for the past decade or more are now in the 23rd District due to redrawn district lines. Northeast resident Nicole Cawlfield votes at the Sons Of Columbus Hall on Independence Boulevard, and was shocked to find Missouri Representative Michael Johnson running unopposed on her ballot rather than 19th District Incumbent Ingrid Burnett and challenger Wick Thomas. “I live in Pendleton Heights,” Cawlfield said, “So I am currently outside of that boundary, of which I was unaware. Last time I voted, [Wick Thomas] was in my district.”
Another former District 19 resident, Wayne Whisler, cast his ballot in the 23rd District. “There was a person out front [of Northeast High School] and she asked me on my way out if I had voted for Wick Thomas and I told her he wasn’t on my ballot,” Whisler said. “She called it in and confirmed I was in District 19.”


“I had candidates calling me on election day and asking me the same question,” Ealom told The Northeast News, “When voters come to their polling location, the ballots are populated based on accurate information. The maps on our website aren’t updated yet, but if you check your voter status on our website, you can access a sample ballot in advance of election day.”


Early voting was allowed at Union Station in advance of the August 2 primary, and voters from across Kansas City were given ballots specific to their ward and precinct using the same database. If voters believe they received the wrong ballot, they can verify their ward and precinct by going online to www.kceb.org/voters/status.


When The Northeast News reached out to District 19 Democratic Candidate Wick Thomas, he told us “We heard a lot of confusion at the polls. KCEB was struggling this year with all the last minute changes to the district. I truly believe they did the best they could with the time frame given to them. The State needs to be updating people when they make these changes to the district.”


The Northeast News noted in a post to our Facebook page on Monday, August 1: “Tomorrow is the Missouri Primary Election. Your voting location may have changed since the last election on April 5. If you did not receive a card in the mail with your current voting location printed on it, you can check your location at www.kceb.org/”


The next election will be Tuesday, November 8th. Voters are encouraged to make sure they are registered to vote, and double-check their current polling location prior to election day.


“Don’t wait until election day to do the research,” Ealom said, “We make plans to go to the grocery store or take vacations, but too often people show up at the polls unprepared.”

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