When the polls close on Election Day and no more voting is allowed, the election judge at each polling place has poll workers seal all the ballot boxes.
The boxes are sent to a central vote-counting facility. This is usually a government office, such as a city hall or county courthouse.
There, if paper ballots are still used, election officials manually read each ballot and add up the number of votes in each race.
Where punch-card ballots are used, election officials count the ballots by hand, then run them through a mechanical punch card reader, which prints out a tally.
For absentee/mail-in ballots, they’re first cross-checked against voter registration records, to ensure there’s no fraud taking place.
On Election Day—but never before—state election officials count the mail-in ballots, and add the tally to the ballots cast in-person.
With newer, fully computerized voting systems, the vote totals are transmitted automatically, or via removable digital media, to the central counting facility.
The Missouri GOP won big again last week, and at this point, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Sweeping five statewide offices is a big deal, but they did it in 2016, too.
Keeping supermajorities in the legislature is practically routine — those have been around since 2013.
But for a few weeks this fall, some thought the tides might be shifting.
Insiders and pollsters suggested an unpopular president and uneven handling of the pandemic had weakened the GOP, and that Democrats might be able to take advantage, especially in the suburbs, and chart a path back to relevance.
So what happened? Well, fully answering that question will take more than a week. But a look at initial election numbers offers some early takeaways.
Trump did slip in the suburbs — it just didn’t matter
If there was any hope for a shift in political power in Missouri, much of it rested on a sense that President Donald Trump had lost some ground here after winning the state by 18.6 percentage points in 2016.
Many attributed Republican Eric Greitens’ 5-point win over Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster to a ride on Trump’s coattails four years ago, and Democrats cheered polls suggesting those coattails might be getting shorter.
Give the pollsters this: None of them thought Joe Biden would actually win the state.
But poll after poll suggested Trump would be in single digits this time around. One analysis even suggested his lead was down to 4 percentage points in early October after a raucous debate performance.
They were wrong: Unofficial results show Trump won Missouri by 15.6 percentage points, well beyond most polls’ margin of error.
Biden did manage to cut into Trump’s margins in key suburbs and other outlying areas. Platte and Clay counties, which include the northern edges of Kansas City, were 10 and 7 points closer than they were in 2016, respectively, and Trump’s lead in St. Charles was 9 points smaller.
Greene County was also 7 points closer.
That’s not nothing. If Biden had taken three points off Trump’s 2016 margins in Florida and North Carolina like he did in Missouri, he would’ve flipped those states.
And if State Auditor Nicole Galloway, Democrats’ nominee for governor this year, had run three points ahead of what Koster did in 2016, she might have been within striking distance on election night.
But she didn’t, and it wasn’t.
Parson ran up the score in the suburbs
Democrats often say they can win statewide if they do three things:
- Run up the score in St. Louis and Kansas City, which are heavily Democratic;
- Find a way to win majorities in the big city suburbs and Greene County, where there’s a more even mix of Republicans and Democrats; and
- Avoid losing by too much in rural Missouri, which is heavily Republican.
Koster did the first part in 2016, but not the second or the third, and lost.
Medicaid expansion, which Democrats favored, did all three in August and passed.
Democrats hoped Galloway would follow the second path against Gov. Mike Parson.
But rather than following in Biden’s footsteps in the suburbs, Galloway’s margins were roughly 4 points worse than Koster’s in Clay County, 5 points worse in Greene County, and 6 points worse in St. Charles County.
Unless the last batches of absentee ballots yet to be added to results change things, she’ll have actually done worse than Koster in St. Louis and Kansas City, too.
And Parson, who grew up in Wheatland and still tends cattle in Bolivar, made sure Galloway didn’t get anywhere near close in rural areas.
Here’s a statistic: Greitens won the counties the state defines as rural by 33 percentage points in 2016. Parson won them by 56 points.
Greitens’ biggest win in 2016 was in Barton County by 56.8 percentage points. Parson had bigger margins than that in 48 counties this time around.
And that’s why the maps look a lot redder this time around.
Democrats gained one seat …
Disappointment followed Democrats down the ballot.
Hopes of flipping two state Senate seats in mid-Missouri and St. Louis County fizzled.
So did plans to flip seats in the Missouri House, including eight districts that U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill carried when she lost in 2018.
But in a year where their top-of-ticket candidates lost big, they could still find some positives.
Democrat Betsy Fogle may yet unseat Republican Rep. Steve Helms in east Springfield — she led by 80 votes heading into a recount Thursday.
Democrats also improved their margin in at least one House seat in St. Charles County.
In another year, the party could see that as something to build on, especially with a friendly change to the redistricting process on the horizon.
But they lost voters on that, too.
… but winning more is getting harder
In 2018, the constitutional amendment called “Clean Missouri” won 62 percent of the vote.
The cities, suburbs and dozens of rural counties all approved of the plan for stricter limits on campaign contributions, a $5 cap on lobbyist gifts to legislators, and a new way of drawing the districts those legislators represent.
But when Republicans asked voters to take another look at the redistricting piece with Amendment 3 last week, warning that it could put rural areas in districts with Kansas City and St. Louis, their revision squeaked through by 2 points.
Rural counties went from supporting Clean Missouri by a 6-point margin to supporting a plan to gut its plans for new maps by 22 points.
Greene County, which backed Clean Missouri by 34 percentage points in 2018, just barely voted to keep it intact this year.
St. Charles County backed Clean Missouri by 25 points in 2018, but approved Amendment 3 by 5 points.
Margins even shrunk in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Backers of Clean Missouri chalked the loss up to deceptive ballot language pairing the redistricting rewrite with a ban on lobbyist gifts.
Conservatives said voters were standing up against “out-of-state dark money trying to lie to us” and push a liberal agenda.
Regardless, the decision means the state will largely abandon plans to try and draw districts aimed at producing more competitive elections and an assembly that better reflects statewide votes.
Democrats stood to benefit from that approach because the two parties have been far more evenly matched in races for governor and the U.S. Senate than they have been in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Instead, they’ll head into redistricting next year under most of the same rules Republicans have used to build supermajorities in recent years.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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