HERMANN — Along with assisting a steady flow of voters in the county’s dozen-plus precincts and keeping the polling places disinfected against the spread of the coronavirus on Nov. 3, …
HERMANN — Along with assisting a steady flow of voters in the county’s dozen-plus precincts and keeping the polling places disinfected against the spread of the coronavirus on Nov. 3, election judges might be contending with another, possibly more contentious, chore: Keeping electioneering activity no closer than 25 feet from the precinct door.
Gasconade County Clerk Lesa Lietzow Thursday morning acknowledged the possibility that this year’s General Election might include increased electioneering activity, given the height of contention seen during this year’s presidential campaign. It’s also likely that some of the precincts will see the presence of poll watchers — representatives of the various campaigns who will be on hand to observe the voting process as it takes place. The clerk, the county’s chief elections official, confirmed that her office has been contacted regarding poll watchers.
Poll watchers can only observe, she said, not get involved in the process of the balloting taking place in the precincts. The poll watchers also have to be registered with the County Clerk’s Office and the respective political party central committees in the county.
As for electioneering activity, Lietzow explained that state law prevents such activity within 25 feet of the door of the polling place. While a significant amount of electioneering normally doesn’t occur for most election days, the atmosphere surrounding this year’s elections — particularly the presidential election — is anything but normal, leaving election officials unsure of what to expect.
On a related note, Lietzow said the issue of what she called “campaign clothing” has arisen, referring to shirts and hats bearing political messages. “The question has come up about wearing campaign clothing in the polling place,” the clerk said.
Such clothing is not allowed inside the polling place; and while a politically-inspired hat has been worn by some voters during earlier elections, that has not been an issue in the ballot-casting process. However, voters should be aware that an election judge could require a voter to remove the hat once inside the polling place.
When registration ended Oct. 6 for casting a ballot in the General Election, Gasconade County posted 10,700 eligible voters. That’s about 200 more than were registered for the August Primary Election.
Meanwhile, Lietzow applauded the work of the local U.S. Postal Service workers to deliver absentee ballots to the voters in quick fashion. Of the more-than-200 absentee ballots that were mailed on the first day available to those requesting a ballot, all but two were delivered quickly, she said. “Two of them took their time” getting to the voters, she said. Both of those voters are out-of-state.
“I will say the postal departments around here are on top of it,” Lietzow said, noting that her office is in daily contact with local Post Offices.
County’s CARES Act spending requires ‘single financial audit’
In other matters at last week’s County Commission session, the clerk explained that Gasconade County will be facing an additional audit in 2021 — a “single financial audit” aimed primarily at reviewing the allocation of the CARES Act money that is being appropriated to local government agencies, non-profits and businesses for expenses and losses related to the coronavirus. A single financial audit is required if a county spends more than $750,000 in federal money during a year.
Gasconade County normally doesn’t receive or spend nearly that much in federal money; however, receiving the CARES Act money totaling $1.725 million essentially assures the county of having a single financial audit. In addition to the CARES Act money that has been and will be dispensed through the end of this year, the county has used about $300,000 in federal highway money; that money is included in the amount triggering the single financial audit.
It is up to the county to obtain that audit, which means normally bids would be sought from auditing firms to conduct the review. However, county administrators are hoping to be able to use the company that is auditing the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC). That audit will cover MRPC as the administrator of the CARES Act money of seven of the eight counties within the Meramec Region. Crawford County is the only county in the region that did not contract with MRPC to administrator its coronavirus money.
The same information an auditing firm would examine in a single financial audit of Gasconade County will be examined in the audit of MRPC. County administrators say it would be more efficient to be able to use the same auditing firm because it would already have access to all the information it would need regarding the CARES Act funds.
If the county has to contract with a firm independently for the audit, it can use CARES Act money to pay for that audit; however; an up-front payment would be required and there could be an issue of having adequate time to contract for an audit.
The close-out date for distributing CARES Act money is Dec. 30. CARES Act money not distributed by that date must be returned to the U.S. Treasury. However, MRPC has set down a deadline of Dec. 20 for applicants to submit requests for funding.
That date was set to allow MRPC staff to check the legitimacy of requests and obtain approval for payment from the various county commissions prior to the federal government's Dec. 30 deadline. Gasconade County administrators will discuss the audit issues with MRPC officials.