Turnout low; presiding commissioner says new vote patterns developing
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2009 7:26 pm
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (April 9, 2009) — Turnout percentages were low in Tuesday’s election throughout most of Pulaski County except the bitterly divided community of Crocker, where more than a quarter of the voters turned out at the polls and threw their mayor, two aldermen, and two school board members including the board president out of office.
Countywide, only 2,406 of the county’s 21,590 registered voters turned out for the school and city elections, which corresponds to an 11.14 percent turnout. County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer said she was disappointed, especially by the much lower turnouts in some of the cities.
At Thursday’s county commission meeting, Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall noted that a new vote pattern may be developing in Pulaski County.
“Laquey now has more registered voters than Richland, and even more than Crocker,” Ransdall said. “I guess the big story is the shift in the voters of those rural precincts, and whether those people registered just to vote in the presidential election or whether Crocker is now no longer the biggest number of votes in the elections.”
Pulaski County Totals
In the April election, 2,458 Laquey residents were eligible to vote, compared to 3,458 in Dixon, 2,173 in Crocker and 1,425 in Richland. In fact, 298 Laquey voters showed up at the polls, which is even more than the 274 St. Robert voters who showed up in the county’s largest precinct which includes Fort Leonard Wood. It’s also a larger number than the 221 Richland voters and 182 Dixon voters who turned out Tuesday to cast their ballots.
“Laquey is a growing place,” said Commissioner Ricky Zweerink, whose western district includes much but not all of Laquey.
Laquey isn’t even an incorporated city or village, but its school district is the third-largest in Pulaski County and the construction of numerous residential subdivisions west of Fort Leonard Wood has led to major population growth.
Linnenbringer cautioned that Ransdall is correct that many of the county’s new voters registered only for the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. Much of the recent registration was driven by voter registration offerings at the Division of Family Services, she said.
“They were registering all the people who came in there, and prior to the presidential election, every day they were bringing just stacks of voter registration cards,” Linnenbringer said.
The lowest turnout was in St. Robert, where only 4.18 percent of 6,553 registered voters turned out to vote for St. Robert city council and Waynesville R-VI School Board races. The school board covers both cities, Fort Leonard Wood, and many adjacent rural areas stretching all the way east to Devil’s Elbow.
St. Robert’s first ward had a race between longtime Alderman Theresa Cook, the city’s mayor pro-tem, and challenger Charles Slider, which was decided by only a single vote with 35 votes for Cook and 34 for Slider. The other three wards had uncontested races for alderman and Mayor George Sanders was unopposed for re-election.
Waynesville’s turnout was much better, with 655 of the precinct’s 4,918 voters coming to the polls. Ward I Councilwoman Diana Stanford easily won re-election by more than a two-to-one margin with 38 votes compared to 14 for challenger Charles Anderson. Four other councilmen were unopposed in their races.
On the Waynesville R-VI school board, both St. Robert and Waynesville voters decided by large majorities to return incumbent Randy Walters to the board, with 185 St. Robert voters and 409 Waynesville voters combining with 61 absentee ballots to provide Walters’ winning margin of 655, compared to 477 for newcomer Herman Blau, who will join him on the school board.
The margin was narrower between Blau and the next-ranked candidate, LeRoy Fulmer Jr., Waynesville’s retired assistant superintendent for curriculum, who was elected to the school board after his retirement but defeated last year for re-election. Fulmer polled 423 votes, with a closer margin of defeat in St. Robert than Waynesville. Fulmer received 100 votes in St. Robert compared to 114 for Blau, and received 279 votes in Waynesville compared to 328 for Blau. Fulmer actually won in the absentee ballot tally, with 44 absentee ballots compared to 35 for Blau.
The fourth candidate, Melvin Hensley, lost by wide margins across the whole school district. He received 268 votes districtwide, with 155 in Waynesville, 83 in St. Robert and 29 absentee ballots.
Crocker, by contrast, had what was by far the county’s largest turnout.
Of the Crocker precinct’s 2,173 voters, 547 turned out and decided by large margins to oust Mayor Jim Morgan and Ward I Alderman Jim Patton. Both lost by three-to-one margins, with Morgan receiving 70 votes compared to challenger Linda Wilson’s 204 votes, and Patton receiving only 35 votes compared to challenger Lorie Layman’s 103 votes. Incumbent school board president Charles Worstell also lost big, receiving only 189 votes compared to winning candidates John T. Riffe, with 257 votes, and Rebecca Ruckman Posten, who had 364. Incumbent school board member Jeff Curry also lost his school board seat, receiving only 216 votes, though he held onto his Ward I seat on the Crocker City Council, receiving 74 votes compared to 56 for his challenger, Tom Townsend. Incumbent Ward II Alderman Kimberly Skaggs-Henson also lost by a slim margin of 67 votes compared to 70 for her challenger, Herman Goodrich.
The Crocker fire board saw its one incumbent member, Fire Capt. Robert Ishmael, win re-election by a sizeable margin of 212 votes compared to newcomer Randall Moore, who will join him on the board with 170 votes. Jeffrey Porter also ran but received only 157 votes.
Most other communities had less than half of Crocker’s voter turnout, with 15.51 percent of Richland’s voters coming to the polls, 13.32 percent in Waynesville, 12.12 percent in Waynesville, 10.5 percent in Big Piney, 8.81 percent in Swedeborg and 5.26 percent in Dixon.
Voter turnout was closely tied to the presence of closely contested races.
Swedeborg voters didn’t have any issues in their own community but did have a contested election between three candidates for the Crocker fire board, whose jurisdiction includes Swedeborg. Only 34 of Swedeborg’s 386 voters decided to take the time to cast their ballots; their votes followed a somewhat different pattern from Crocker residents, with 21 casting ballots for incumbent fire board member Robert Ishmael but 21 also favoring Jeffrey Porter, who districtwide was defeated by newcomer Randall Moore who polled only 15 votes from Swedeborg.
The situation was similar in Dixon, where none of the five city races for mayor, municipal judge or alderman were contested. The only Dixon issues were lightly contested races for the Dixon R-I School Board, where incumbents Troy Porter and Craig Rivera easily won re-election with 178 and 177 votes, respectively, compared to 70 for challenger Greg Roberson, and for the Dixon Rural Fire Protection District, where incumbent Leslie Clark and newcomer James McClendon won with 235 and 172 votes compared to 113 for challenger James Miller.
The Dixon fire and school districts extend into both Maries and Phelps counties, but no Phelps County voters cast their ballots in either election and Maries County voters followed their Pulaski colleagues south of the county line. Clark and McClendon received 113 and 53 of their votes from Maries County compared to 45 for Miller, and Porter and Rivera received 26 and 28 of their voted from Maries County compared to eight for Roberson.
With the county’s second-highest turnout of 15.51 percent, Richland saw 221 of its possible 1,425 voters come to the polls for contested races for mayor, school board and two of the three aldermen seats.
The city council races for Ward III alderman and for municipal judge weren’t contested, but Mayor Bob Wall easily defeated challenger Kimi Gerred by a nearly five-to-one margin of 148 votes compared to 32 for Gerred, and Ward I Alderman Eldon Haun, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, won with 29 votes compared to challenger Larry Jeffries, who received 19 votes. However, longtime Ward II Alderman Mac Myers lost with only 15 votes compared to 39 for his challenger, Thomas Murphy.
Richland’s city limits run west out of Pulaski County into both Laclede and Camden counties, but none of Richland’s voters inside the Laclede County borders voted and the margins of victory for most candidates with part of their district in Camden County paralleled the citywide totals. Fifteen of Wall’s 148 votes came from Camden County, compared to five of Gerred’s 32 votes. In the race between Haun and Jeffries in Ward I, Haun still won in Camden County with eight of his 29 votes from the western part of his ward but by a narrower margin, since Jeffries has six Camden County out of his 19 votes citywide. None of Richland’s second ward is west of Pulaski County, and while part of Ward III is in Laclede County, none of the Laclede voters turned out for the uncontested Ward III race that saw incumbent Alderman Tim Bailey returned to office.
The parallel voting in the three counties didn’t hold true for the Richland R-V School Board. While the top-ranked candidate, Jerry Pemberton, received 244 votes districtwide and was also the top vote-getter in Pulaski County with 162 votes and Camden County with 82 votes, he received only two votes from Laclede County. The second-highest candidate, Elizabeth Warren, will join him on the board with 117 votes. However, nearly all of Warren’s votes came from Pulaski County; she didn’t get any Laclede County votes at all and came in fourth-place out of seven candidates in Camden County with only 24 Camden County votes. That compares to 43 from Camden County for Ira Moss, who came in third-place countywide with 90 votes and second-place in Laclede County with six votes, and 30 from Camden County for Eric Graves, who came in fourth-place districtwide with 79 votes. Graves and Moss drew much of their support from outside Pulaski County, with Moss earning only 41 Pulaski County votes compared to 43 from Camden and six from Laclede counties, and Graves earning 49 Pulaski County votes compared to 30 from Camden County.
Other Richland R-IV School Board candidates were Brenda Mathes, with 54 votes districtwide, 14 of them from Camden County and three from Laclede County; Michael Calvetti, with 42 votes districtwide, 34 from Pulaski County and eight from Laclede County, and 25 votes for Donna Guevremont, four of them from Camden County.
Laquey’s turnout of 12.12 percent wasn’t the best countywide, but its vote total of 298 placed it above every other community in Pulaski County except Waynesville and Crocker. All of those votes were for the Laquey R-V School Board, since Laquey doesn’t have any municipal government.
The vote totals showed a blowout margin of victory for Mary Cristoffer, who was originally appointed to fill an unexpired term, was elected for a full term three years ago, and was reelected Tuesday to her second full three-year term. Cristoffer received 200 votes — one of only two school board candidates in all of Pulaski County, along with Rebecca Ruckman Posten of Crocker to receive an absolute majority of voters — and will be joined by Larry Southard, who lost his bid for re-election last year and received 142 votes this year. Incumbent board member Mary Ann Miller lost her race for re-election with 124 votes and was followed by Fanny Gan with 71 votes and 41 votes for William W. Council.
The Big Piney precinct in far southeast Pulaski County beyond Fort Leonard Wood’s south gate is only a small portion of the four-county Plato R-V School District, but choices of Big Piney voters for their school board weren’t the same as those of other voters districtwide. Big Piney voters chose incumbent Pete Scurlock with 15 votes compared to 10 each for incumbents Mike Friend and Penny Morrison for the three-year full term on the school board; districtwide, Scurlock came in fourth place with only 69 votes and lost to Friend and Morrison, who won with 186 and 145 votes, respectively. Other candidates were Tina Routh, who had 72 votes districtwide and six in Big Piney, John Sponsel, who had 58 votes districtwide and four in Big Piney, and Kevin Christensen, none of whose 44 votes came from Big Piney.
Elsewhere in the Plato R-V School District, Friend and Morrison were clear winners. In the district’s core of Texas County, Friend and Morrison had 109 and 82 votes compared to 45 for Routh, the third-ranking Texas County candidate. In Wright County, Friend polled 16 votes and Morrison polled 13 votes, more than all other candidates combined. Laclede County voters gave Friend 51 votes compared to 40 for Morrison, more than twice the number for any other candidate.
Scurlock had been appointed last spring to fill an unexpired term after the winning candidate was found to be ineligible because she didn’t file a required Missouri Ethics Commission report, but chose to run for the three-year full term rather than the remaining two years of the term to which he had been appointed. Kimberly A. (Murry) Hodges won with a districtwide margin of 199 votes compared to 92 for her challenger, Lee Atterberry, who she defeated by more a two-to-one margin in each of the four counties. The Big Piney vote total in Pulaski County was 13 for Hodges and six for Atterberry.