By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A former Joplin city department director says he thinks the outcome of the April 3 election in which voters narrowly approved the Joplin School District’s $62 million bond issue was invalid because residents who had moved outside of Joplin were allowed to return to their old precincts to vote.
Doug Joyce, former parks and recreation director for Joplin, has taken his questions to local and state election officials, asking for a review of voter records.
Bonnie Earl, Jasper County clerk, said some Joplin voters who were temporarily displaced by the May 2011 tornado, such as those in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers in the Webb City School District, were allowed to vote in Joplin because they indicated they planned to move back to their former voting precincts.
Earl said she discussed her decision with officials in the secretary of state’s office before the school bond vote. The measure passed by only 46 votes out of more than 8,600 cast.
“I told them if they were planning on moving back, they could vote in their old precincts,” she said. “It’s not like they moved by choice; these people had been displaced.”
But, some Joplin area voters may have to change their registration to vote in the Aug. 7 primary, Earl said. She said the clerk’s office is trying to track down county residents who may have permanently moved and have no plans to return to their former precincts.
Doris Moorehouse, a deputy clerk in the elections office, said the office is still hearing from tornado victims who say they plan to be back in their old neighborhoods by election day.
Joyce, who lives in rural Joplin but in the Joplin School District’s boundaries, said his issue with the April 3 vote has nothing to do with the outcome of the election, but rather how the vote was conducted. In addition to raising the question with local election officials, he has contacted the Missouri secretary of state.
Joyce, in a letter to the Globe, said the election should temporarily be put in abeyance and a total review of voter records should be conducted. No review is being planned by the state. Ryan Hobart, communications director for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, said county clerks are in charge of local votes, such as the April 3 city and school election.
“Ultimately, the decision is the clerk’s,” he said.
The office also cited a Missouri Supreme Court decision handed down in 1972 that found that Christopher “Kit” Bond met the requirement that a candidate must be a resident of the state for 10 years to run for governor, even though he had lived outside Missouri for 10 years.
Residency requirements were the issue cited by Joyce, who said voters who signed in at the polls “were saying that was their correct address, when in most cases, that address was an empty lot.”
Earl cited voters’ plans to return to Joplin as one of the reasons she allowed them to cast ballots in their old precincts. Intention also was an issue in the Bond decision, in which judges ruled that residence was largely “a matter of intention” and did not require “an actual, physical presence.”
Gregory Magarian, an expert in voting and constitutional law at Washington University in St. Louis, said he sees the matter as similar to one cited in the Missouri Constitution, which allows students who move for college to maintain their home address for voting.
“You can’t vote twice, in two different places, and no one is saying that happened,” he said. “It stands to reason the clerk would display some flexibility because in terms of residence, those folks have experienced the ultimate hardship.”
The April election was not the first time voting plans were shifted as a result of the tornado. Joplin voters last August were counted in their old precincts, but they all voted at Northpark Mall in an election that extended the city’s quarter-cent sales tax for parks and stormwater projects. That passed by a large margin.
The $62 million school bond issue in April required approval by four-sevenths, or 57.14 percent, of the voters. In Jasper and Newton counties, 57.68 percent voted for the issue.
Change of address
Moorehouse said workers in the county clerk’s office are changing voter registrations of anyone who has moved, based on responses to forms mailed to residents using change-of-address information provided by the post office. The forms ask voters to indicate if they have moved out of state, moved inside the county, or moved outside Jasper County but remained in Missouri.
“They’re asked to sign it,” she said. “If they do that and provide a new address (in Jasper County), we change their address on their voter registration.”
Before the primary election, those voters will be mailed new voter identification cards with their new addresses and precinct information, Moorehouse said.
“But we’ve received a lot of calls from people who say, ‘I’m rebuilding on my property, and I’ll be in by the election,’” she said. “In that case, they don’t need to do anything.”
Voters who have moved and want to vote in the August election also may go to the county clerk’s offices in Carthage or Joplin and register their new address. The offices are located on the main floor of the Carthage courthouse, and the second floor of the Jasper County Courts Building at Sixth Street and Pearl Avenue in Joplin.
July 11 is the deadline to register, or to change addresses on voter registration records, for the Aug. 7 primary election. Most local races in Jasper and Newton counties will be decided in Republican primaries in August.