I am continually bemused in my political life by the assertion that I hear constantly from individuals in Missouri: “I’m a registered…” I take far too much delight in responding: “No you’re not. People can’t register to vote by party in Missouri.” The reaction to that statement is usually consternation mixed with confusion.

This fact of political life in Missouri makes party identification of voters a perpetual headache for those involved in getting out “their” voters.

Once in a political blue moon we have the opportunity to make a dent in the voter identification problem (Hotflash first reported on this here). One of those opportunities is a presidential preference primary where both major parties have contested races and the nomination for either has yet to be determined by the time Missouri gets to vote. See my point? There’s a greatly diminished incentive for crossover mischief – that is, voters from one party crossing over to vote for the perceived weaker candidate of the other party.

There’s an interesting little provision in the statutes:

Chapter 115

Election Authorities and Conduct of Elections

Section 115.105

August 28, 2007

Challengers, how selected, qualifications–challenges, when made–challengers may collect certain information at presidential primary elections–challenges, how made.

115.105. 1. The chair of the county committee of each political party named on the ballot shall have the right to designate a challenger for each polling place, who may be present during the hours of voting, and a challenger for each location at which absentee ballots are counted, who may be present while the ballots are being prepared for counting and counted. No later than four business days before the election, the chair of each county committee of each political party named on the ballot shall provide signed official designation forms with the names of the designated challengers and substitutes to the local election authority for confirmation of eligibility to serve as a challenger. The local election authority, after verifying the eligibility of each designated and substitute challenger, shall sign off on the official designation forms, unless the challenger is found not to have the qualifications established by subsection 5 of this section. If the election authority determines that a challenger does not meet the qualifications of subsection 5 of this section, the designating party chair may designate a replacement challenger and provide the local election authority with the name of the replacement challenger before 5:00 p.m. of the Monday preceding the election. The designating chair may substitute challengers at his or her discretion during such hours.

2. Challenges may only be made when the challenger believes the election laws of this state have been or will be violated, and each challenger shall report any such belief to the election judges, or to the election authority if not satisfied with the decision of the election judges.

3. Prior to the close of the polls, challengers may list and give out the names of those who have voted. The listing and giving out of names of those who have voted by a challenger shall not be considered giving information tending to show the state of the count.

4. In a presidential primary election, challengers may collect information about the party ballot selected by the voter and may disclose party affiliation information after the polls close.

5. All persons selected as challengers shall have the same qualifications required by section 115.085 for election judges, except that such challenger shall be a registered voter in the jurisdiction of the election authority for which the challenger is designated as a challenger.

6. Any challenge by a challenger to a voter’s identification for validity shall be made only to the election judges or other election authority. If the poll challenger is not satisfied with the decision of the election judges, then he or she may report his or her belief that the election laws of this state have been or will be violated to the election authority as allowed under this section.

(L. 1977 H.B. 101 § 4.001, A.L. 1983 S.B. 234, A.L. 1999 H.B. 676, A.L. 2003 H.B. 511, A.L. 2006 S.B. 1014 & 730)

[emphasis added]

The statue allows parties a relatively efficient means to identify their base (since we don’t register to vote by party). This information is only accurate in a presidential election year when both parties have contested primaries. It’s a very rare opportunity, indeed.

You get resistance. Sometimes people, including some republican party County Clerks, make the process as difficult as they can.

I received the following e-mail from Gary Grigsby, a Democratic party activist in Johnson County:

…Today [January 30], when Delbert Bodenhamer (Johnson County Democratic Central Committe Chairperson) and I attempted to file our list of Challengers and Watcher in the Johnson County Clerk’s office, we were confronted by Gilbert Powers with each name being required to be on a separate form executed and signed by Delbert…

…It is my contention that the document Delbert submitted constitutes a list of Democratic Challengers (and a Watcher) as allowed by RSMo 115.105.  Delbert gave this document to the Deputy Clerk who was in the office when we arrived at 4:20 p.m. and told her this was his list of Challengers and Watcher for the upcoming election.  She handled the document and looked at each page.  She then said that there was another form to be filled out on each Challenger or Substitute Challenger.  These forms were printed on legal size paper with the upper approximate 1/3 of the form being the form she said needed to be filled out separately for each Challenger and Substitute Challenger.  The balance of the front face of this document and the entire backside had various Statue citations from Chapter 115 RSMo.  This form required the Challenger’s precinct and the precinct to which the Challenger would be assigned be indicated.  Since this is a Presidential Primary, I felt this was unnecessary since the Party Chairperson (Delbert) may substitute Challengers at his (or her) discretion, but we started filling out the forms provided by the Deputy Clerk.

At some point during the early stage of this procedure, Clerk Powers entered, asked what we were doing, and went to his computer.  After a period of 5-10 minutes, he came back over to the counter, engaged in some conversation, and eventually said that it was after 4:30, and the forms were of no use, and he was not going to accept them (words to that effect!).  I countered with the fact that we had presented our list at 4:20 p.m., and that it constituted the submission of names for Challengers and Watcher.  He became argumentative, but, since he is in the position of Election Authority, it would serve no purpose for me to further argue with him.  I proceeded to continue filling out the forms as his Deputy Clerk requested.  Gilbert left the room for about 20-25 minutes.  When he returned, he told his Deputy to stamp the forms and put them in an envelope.  He muttered a veiled threat of taking them to the [County] Prosecuting Attorney tomorrow (meaning “Thursday”).

Delbert and I finished filling out the forms, left the 25 Challenger forms, 1 Watcher form, and the 3 page document we originally presented to the Deputy Clerk at 4:20 p.m.  Additionally, we left a memo from Delbert Bodenhamer, requesting the names of Republican Challengers and Watchers….

If the two individuals had left the Johnson County Clerk’s office upon first encountering resistance from republican County Clerk Gilbert Powers (without filling out the additional forms) there would have been no Democratic Poll Challengers for th
is primary and no efficient identification of voters for the Democratic Party. That’s a powerful incentive for resistance, don’t you think?

Surprise of surprises, the Warrensburg paper covered the story in its Thursday, January 31 edition (front page, above the fold)(yes, the paper is still in the 19th century so there’s no link):

Questions Arise About Filing Names Of Election Officials

by SUE STERLING

Star-Journal Staff Writer

The Johnson County Democratic Party will have poll watchers and challengers at the polls for the Feb. 5 presidential primary, although the issue was in doubt Wednesday afternoon…

Powers said the official forms have been in existence “forever,” and that Bodenhamer has had to fill them out for previous elections.

But Bodenhamer said he had never filled out the forms before, and Grigsby said, “we were kind of blown away,” stating that he felt Powers was “throwing up obstacles” to their submitting the list…

…he [Grigsby] said Powers told them he was not going to accept the forms because the deadline was 4:30 p.m. but, acting on the advice of an attorney, “We stayed there and and filled them out anyway and left them…”

[emphasis added]

After review of the documents by the republican Prosecuting Attorney, the filed papers were accepted reportedly because the statute was “vague” about the deadline and the forms.

The Warrensburg paper didn’t note that the republicans in Johnson County submitted a list of 13 republican poll challengers.

This process allows a rare opportunity for political parties in Missouri to efficiently identify their base. The republicans have all kinds of money to pay for this by other means – they don’t like it when cash poor Democrats can level the playing field without spending much money. Why, that’d be un-republican…

Oh, and republican County Clerk Gilbert Powers? You might remember him. He seems to constantly find himself at the center of a lot of action.