Democrats in the Springfield area are concerned about a plan to station off-duty law enforcement personnel at polling places for tomorro w’s election.
Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, a Republican, announced last week sheriff’s deputies would be posted inside 45 voting locations, with additional deputies moving between 30 other spots.
Springfield has never before had a law enforcement presence at polling places. Schoeller says the move is a response to the current political climate. “You’ve probably seen the national headlines these past couple of days” said Schoeller. “Even federal law enforcement has said they anticipate issues at the polls during the day of the election. And of course, as you’ve watched at different political rallies, and even at political headquarters, there’s just been a lot more activity in terms of tensions and, unfortunately, violence that has occurred during this election period.”
Greene County Democratic Party Executive Director Skyler Johnston thinks a law enforcement presence at polling places will only suppress voter turnout. “When we have such a hard time getting folks out to the polls to begin with, we need to make sure that our elections are fair and equitable” said Johnston. “I know that that’s the idea that he (Schoeller) is using. But, in essence, having a police presence is going to drive people away from the polls.”
Schoeller says he addressed concerns about law enforcement presence Saturday when he modified the plan by having plain clothes deputies with concealed weapons posted at polling places instead of uniformed deputies.
When asked how the 45 voting sites in which to place the deputies were chosen, Schoeller declined to elaborate. “That’s something that we’ve had conversations with the Sheriff’s Department, so I’m not going to comment any further on that. But we’ve certainly worked with them on that. They certainly do not want us to share that type of information.”
Greene County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Brown says it’s his understanding the polling places were selected based on crime rates in their areas. He thinks dispatching deputies to polling places is a solution looking for a problem. “There has been no known threats to any polling location, as far as I know in Green County” said Brown. “No ‘We’re going to protest here. We’re going to go to this place’. There’s nothing.”
Both County Democratic Party operatives, Johnston and Brown, claims they only found out about the plan to send law enforcement personnel to polling places when they read about it in a local newspaper.
Schoeller says the deputies have been trained to help voters use direct recording electronic equipment (DRE’s) which assist people with handicaps. The machines were only used 14 times in a countywide March election which drew 80,000 voters. Brown is skeptical of the need for the assistance. “There’s already somebody in place that’s a poll worker that’s in charge of that machine. In the past it’s always been that person who they go to first…Why is this happening.”
The NAACP joined two other groups in sending Schoeller a letter requesting he abandon the plan. The joint letter by the Missouri NAACP, the Advancement Project and Mound City Bar Association called for more information on Schoeller’s justification for sending law enforcement personnel to particular poll sites.
The groups are seeking the additional information through Missouri’s Sunshine law. The letter goes on to says “Please be advised that we will take all reports of intimidating police presence at the polls seriously and will request that such police be ordered to leave”.