The East St. Louis Election Board is under fire for failing to monitor voter registration and absentee ballot voting. Critics succeeded in getting a referendum on the March 20th primary ballot to eliminate the city’s election board and turn the job over to the St. Clair County Clerk who runs elections in the rest of the county.
Matt Hawkins of the East St. Louis Alliance for Change said Wednesday complaints about large numbers of absentee ballots during previous elections went unanswered. “Forty-two percent of our ballots were absentee in April of 2011 while the rest of the county had 13 percent absentee.”
Former East St. Louis Mayor Carl Officer, who supports eliminating the city’s election board, said the city could use the funds to hire more police officers. East St. Louis spends $450,000 a year on election costs. St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney said his office can run two elections a year for $59,000 once new equipment is purchased at a cost of $44,000. He said the county already subsidizes East St. Louis elections at a cost of $110,000 a year. Turning the process over to the county would save money there as well.
East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks opposes the referendum and is urging voters to vote “no.”
He said it would discourage voting in the city and force citizens to drive to Belleville to register to vote and to take advantage of early voting or absentee voting.
Delaney disputed that. He said absentee ballots can be requested and returned by mail and voter registration can be conducted within the city of East St. Louis at locations like City Hall or the high school. Delaney envisons three sites for early voting in East St. Louis for the November election should voters decide to eliminate the board.
Parks agreed the city needs to trim the cost of elections. “We need to look to find efficiencies to cut the cost of doing business in the Board of Elections but we certainly are looking to keep it,” he said.
Hawkins pointed to one modest house at 1232 Cleveland where 30 people are registered to vote. Records at the East St. Louis Election Board verified the number. One of the registered voters said the building was a boarding house. Nine of those 30 individuals had requested absentee ballots for the March 20th election.
Hawkins said large numbers of voters at one address raised questions about the accuracy of the voter rolls. “There are more people registered in East St. Louis to vote than we have voting age residents according to the last census,” he said.
Parks said it was easy for people who lose elections to point fingers at the Election Board.
(Hawkins ran for county clerk in 2006 and East St. Louis City Council in 2011 and lost each time.) “Our board of elections is excellent,” Parks said adding, “We need to keep it in place.”