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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Few residences used as polling places these days

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

NEW MADRID - Between the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act, it looks like the days of residents' private buildings being used as polling places are numbered.

"The only one to my knowledge, is not really a residence, it's a building on private property, down by Portageville in the Lesieur 1 precinct," said New Madrid County Clerk Clement Cravens. "It's commonly known 'Scrub Ridge.' There's a very, very minimal number of people that are still out there."

Due to recent changes brought about by the Help America Vote Act, this precinct will "probably be looked at to consolidate after this final election is over with in 2004," Cravens said.

"What it is, it's a building right next to his home," Cravens explained. "It's a separate building from his residence on the property that he allows us to use as a polling place. Long before I became county clerk it's been a polling place."

Millard Cook doesn't recall exactly how long he has hosted his precinct's polling place. "Oh, I don't know - 15 years I guess," he estimated. "They just used it because they didn't have nowhere else - I let them use it."

"I'm a Democrat myself and I used to be a committeeman," he added.

Before asking to use Cook's building, the polling place for the precinct was located "all over, scattered everywhere" from year to year, he recalled.

Depending on what kind of election it is, somewhere around 100-250 voters cast ballots at Cook's building. "Something like that," he said. Asked about an expected turnout this year, Cook said: "I don't know - you can't get people out to vote - they don't care about nothing anymore."

There are a couple of businesses in New Madrid County used as polling places: Sikeston Market Place serves as polling place for Big Prairie 4 and voters in the Big Prairie 3 precinct cast their ballots at Royster Clark on Highway 61 just south of Interstate 57.

"The majority are at city halls and community buildings," Cravens said.

In Mississippi County, residences were used in the past, but "not anymore," County Clerk Junior DeLay said. "We phased that out four or five years ago. We used to in Wilson City. After they lost their city hall, we had it in a lady's home and then we moved it to a church."

Neither the home nor the church, however, was handicapped accessible, so election officials combined the Wilson City and Wyatt precincts. "They vote at Wyatt City Hall now," DeLay said.

For the Wolf Island and Dorena precincts, "we did use a couple of farm offices in rural areas," DeLay recalled.

"We now have brought those people in with East Prairie Rural (precinct), and they now vote at the East Prairie Church of God Family Life Center," DeLay said. "In rural areas, they didn't conform to the Americans With Disabilities Act."

While "it's inconvenient for those rural voters to have to come all the way to the city to vote," according to DeLay, "they had low voter turnout - there weren't many voters left in those rural areas."

Voters typically had to drive some distance to a polling place anyway as they were in large geographic, sparsely populated areas.

"We are now in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act as far as having an accessible polling place," DeLay said.

The consolidations have had a benefit for the county. "Not as many election judges are needed," DeLay said.

Scott County Clerk Rita Milam said there are no residences used as polling places in her county, and can think of only one business.

"We use that H&H Seamless Guttering building," Milam said. Located off Salcedo Road, the polling place serves the Salcedo precinct of rural Sikeston. "It's mainly just churches and city halls."

Cities don't receive any money for the use of their city hall for a polling place, "but churches do," Milam said - $60.

"We just have to find places that are big enough to handle the flow of crowds and are handicapped accessible," Milam said about buildings selected for polling places. "Most churches have meeting halls that can handle that."

In Buchanan County, there are three people who will welcome voters into their homes for the November election including Ralph Greer, who has used his garage as a polling place for about 10 years now, and Virginia Testerman who has been hosting elections at her home ever since her precinct's former polling place closed about 20 years ago.

Greer said it's not the money that motivates him - residents receive $70 for using their homes as polling places and another $25 if they agree to set up and store the voting booths. ''If anybody thinks this is a moneymaker, they can have it at their house next time,'' he said.

Greer said he sees it as a way to serve his community and possibly make some friends.

''I say it forces me to clean the garage out three to four times a year,'' Greer said.

Parts of this story were contributed by The Associated Press.