Masked Voters Turn Out for Missouri Primary

Missouri voters, clad in masks and equipped with hand sanitizer, braved the Covid-19 threat Tuesday to cast ballots in the state’s primary election.  

Signs are seen at a polling place in Imperial, Mo., on Tuesday. (Courthouse News photo/Joe Harris)

(CN) — Bob Hahn was not scared to vote Tuesday even though he is in a high-risk group for Covid-19.

Hahn, a Stage 4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patient, got out of his pickup truck with an oxygen machine strapped to his waist and walked into his polling place at Windsor Intermediate School in Imperial, Missouri. He emerged about 10 minutes later after casting his vote in the state’s primary, the first statewide election since the novel coronavirus hit in March.

“It wasn’t so bad. It isn’t like you’re going to be staying in line and everybody was really good about staying away from you and things like that,” Carol Hahn, Bob’s wife, said. “People were really pretty good about it.”

Carol had a bottle of hand sanitizer ready to go in her purse and both wore masks, as did most of the voters going in and out of the Jefferson County polling place.

The Hahns vote in every election and took appropriate precautions with the Covid-19 threat.

“It’s his responsibility to stay away from people,” Carol said. “If he goes up and sees there’s a zillion people and about half of them aren’t wearing masks, we’ve turned around and gone home.”

Jefferson County, located immediately south of St. Louis, does not have a mask mandate despite virus cases tripling in the county in the last month.

The Hahns don’t favor a mandate.

“My health is my responsibility, not anyone else’s,” Bob said.

Angie Korty sported a red Trump 2020 mask. President Donald Trump carried Jefferson County with almost 65% of the vote in 2016.

“This mask stuff is ridiculous, just ridiculous,” Korty said. “It doesn’t really protect you, read your statistics. I believe that your immune system should build up with you. I’m an ops manager for custodial team. This whole time I have worked through it, no gloves, no mask. And I’m fine.”

Korty said she wore the mask as a courtesy to others, even though she doesn’t support it.

A regular voter, she said her opposition to Amendment 2, which would expand Medicaid enrollment options for adults 19-65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, was a motivating factor to vote.

“Heck no, I’m not paying for anybody else’s insurance,” Korty said. “I don’t have insurance. When I had a hospital bill, I just went through Commerce Bank and paid it off.”

A steady stream of voters came through the polling place at Windsor Intermediate. Most voters and some poll workers wore masks and social distancing was encouraged.

The same steady stream flowed through the polling place at Ritenour High School in north St. Louis County, which has a mask mandate.

“I felt real safe,” Christopher Cook said. “I like how they had it set up in there. Everybody was 6 feet apart, everybody in there was wearing masks. There’s some people in there even wearing gloves. It did calm my fears. I was worried when I first came in how it was going to be.”

Cook said he was in and out in five minutes.

A similar experience was reported by other St. Louis County voters.

“They have it set up fairly decently with spacing, they have markings on the floor,” Regina Henderson said. “And they also have seating for a waiting area that’s not close together, they’re spread out 6 feet apart. I’m kind of a little iffy about the [stylus] pin transition. They say they wipe them every third person. I feel like that should be every person, or either just ask us to bring in a pin this time because we do know that there’s Covid out there.”

Medicaid expansion was also a hot button topic for the St. Louis County voters, who tend to be more liberal than their Jefferson County counterparts. Democrat Hillary Clinton had more than 55% of the vote in St. Louis County in 2016, compared to Trump’s 39%.

Henderson supported the measure.

“I just think we need to really help the senior citizens and I think they need to really focus more on medical care and we need to be able to access it,” Henderson said.

A voter named Kourtney said preparation was the key. She educated herself before heading to the polls and ended up being in and out within five minutes.

She also supports Medicaid expansion.

“We’re one of the few developed nations that doesn’t have universal health care and I feel like we’re doing our citizens a disservice,” Kourtney said. “So, expanding it, well, it’s just a small step in the right direction.”

Another race drawing voters to the polls in St. Louis County is the battle for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District between Lacy Clay and Cori Bush.

Clay, a Democrat, has held the seat for 20 years. Bush, a progressive Democrat, is an activist who became a politician after Michael Brown’s shooting death in 2014.

The district is located in a highly liberal area, so the winner of the primary is a virtual lock to win the seat in the general election in November.

“I like Lacy’s record, so it was a hands-down Lacy Clay vote for me,” Billie Jean Gardner said.

Bush unsuccessfully ran against Clay in 2018, in a race Clay won by more than 28,000 votes, a 57-37% split. Bush is hoping name recognition plus a larger campaign budget will improve her chances this time around.

That name recognition in part led Cook to cast his vote for Bush. Other voters such as Kourtney and Henderson had strong feelings about the race but declined to discuss who they supported.

Missouri voters are also casting their votes for a highly anticipated governor’s race in November. Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, and Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, are virtual locks to officially get the endorsement of their respective parties. A recent SLU/YouGov poll shows the general election race between Parson and Galloway to be a dead heat.

Missouri voters afraid of contracting Covid-19 have the ability to vote by mail in the primary and the Nov. 4 general election. Parson signed a bill in June expanding absentee voting temporarily during the pandemic. Mail-in ballots must arrive at the Board of Elections office by 7 p.m. Tuesday in order to be counted.

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