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Kansas City Mayor: 'A national message that COVID-19 is still a threat is key'

Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down the latest on early voting, stimulus negotations, and how coronavirus pandemic is impacting his city.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Huge voter turnout in many states thanks to early in-- in-person voting and mail-in absentee voting. That is also true in Missouri, which has many more restrictions on voting by mail. Now I want to bring you some of the numbers. This is again according to the US elections project into the state of Missouri, 723,058 ballots have already been cast in the state.

And as of Friday morning, nearly 50,000 ballots, absentee and mail-in ballots, were cast in Jackson County, which includes, of course, Kansas City. Now that is compared to just over 16,000 back in 2016. So I want to chat more about voting inside the state with Kansas City mayor, Quinton Lucas. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

You know, we're expecting huge voter turnout this year. And that is in part due to early in process-- in-person voting as well as mail-in and absentee ballots. And I'm not too sure if everyone knows about this, but in Missouri, there's only a few categories where you are allowed or you're qualified to get an absentee ballot. And while mail-in voting is for all eligible voters, both an absentee ballot with a few exceptions and a mail-in ballot has to be notarized.

Which, of course, adds another hurdle to voting. There's seems to be a lot more restrictions within the state than you have in other states. I'm wondering if you think that this might impact turnout tomorrow?

QUINTON LUCAS: Well, I think it will. But we've seen something particularly interesting, which is that a lot of people are just going to polling places. You can usually in Missouri go to election board headquarters, wherever that may be, and thousands, tens of thousands of Missourians have just gone in, waited in line, and it's something really akin to early voting. The reasons unlike usual for absentee, you can mention a fear of obtaining the coronavirus as one of the reasons. And so we're seeing a lot of these early voting locations, like the one on your screen, our Union Station in Kansas City, as one of those places where folks are going in early to make sure their votes are counted.

KRISTIN MYERS: You know, I'm really glad that you mentioned the lines because even here in New York, we've seen a lot of long lines. And people even I know were waiting in line five, six hours even just to cast their ballot. I'm wondering if specifically in Kansas City or even across the state of Missouri, do you-- are you guys ready and prepared for the huge amount of voters that are likely going to be heading to the polls tomorrow?

QUINTON LUCAS: Well, as was mentioned in one of your earlier stories, we do get the advantage of having a lot of people who have already voted. And so with 30%, 30% of the electorate in a system that isn't just kind of reason free early voting, but instead is absentee, with that much of the electorate already having voted, we expect that will help us with lines. But we are ready.

COVID-19 has led us to consolidate locations. You would think that would be a challenge, but of course, that's having us get people in and processed even faster than would be normal. And so we are very excited about what we have to be able to offer to our constituents as they're coming out. But we do encourage everybody, be prepared for a bit of a wait.

Make sure your phone is charged or you have a book. But we want to make sure everybody's vote is counted. And importantly, if they were in line when the polls closed, they will get to vote. Whether that means you're there until 9:00, 10:00 PM, every vote will be counted.

KRISTIN MYERS: So mayor, really quickly, you're saying that you guys consolidated the amount of polls, or polling places due to the coronavirus, correct?

QUINTON LUCAS: Correct.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, we've already seen really long lines. You're already telling people, come prepared for a bit of a wait. A bit could mean eight hours, you know, as we saw back in 2018 in the midterm elections, 2016 elections people were waiting very long line-- on very long lines. Do you think or are you at all concerned or worried, especially with this consolidation of polling places, that frankly, some people are going to give up, and they're going to see these long lines, and they're not going to be interested or nor have the time to wait seven hours in line to vote?

QUINTON LUCAS: I am always concerned about that. That's why I think we need to make it easier to vote. That's why you've seen so many Americans early voting this time around. But we have to play by the rules that exist in a state like this one. We are going to try to make it as easy as possible, making sure that people who need a ballot walked to their car because they may be sick, or people that find themselves waiting for a long time to make sure we have seating.

We're going to take every step possible to make sure it's easier for people to vote and indeed that's why we've added a few gigantic venues. Arrowhead Stadium, where our Kansas City Chiefs play football, is one of our many venues where people will be able to vote. That's the sort of thing that we're trying to do all around the city to make sure that there's going to be enough space so that we can handle an increase volume of voters. Everybody I've got was talking about voting is talking about their voting plans. I think we'll see amazing turnout throughout our country, and we're going to be ready to do our part here in the Kansas City election board.

KRISTIN MYERS: Mayor, I want to ask you now quickly about coronavirus. According to the Jackson County Health Department, the county, which of course, includes your city, now has roughly 10,700 cases. That was as of November 1, so just a couple of days ago. But that is 2,000 more cases than exactly the month before, October 1. Are there plans in Kansas City to do perhaps what Newark is doing, what El Paso is doing, trying to impose some sort of restrictions, closing down non-essential businesses after a certain time? How are you guys going to be approaching this surge in the coming weeks and months?

QUINTON LUCAS: So we have seen how smart regions have addressed the issue. Frankly, those of you in the New York metro area with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut working together to come up with, I think, consistent plans has been something that really helped limit the number of cases that you were seeing in the spring and into the summer months. We are not there yet. I live in a state and we border a state in Kansas that do not have statewide mask mandates.

A lot of the counties, you go one county outside of my own and you have no rules. You can have large events, and you're seeing a rapid increase in cases. You know, our ICUs are filling up, not necessarily from people from Kansas City, but from people from rural counties throughout Missouri and Kansas. That's the challenge that we have.

So as much as my work is in terms of what I'm doing just for my jurisdiction, I'm going to be spending time later this week talking to people from other jurisdictions. And I hope that if our governor is re-elected, we'll be able to hop on the phone later in the week and say, now that the campaign's over, let's try to make sure that we're smart with things like wearing masks. A statewide mask requirement, making sure we're ready for the next wave of COVID-19.

KRISTIN MYERS: So, to that point, have you at all felt, and we've talked about this with other mayors before, who felt like their hands were tied from the governors within their own state. You are a Democratic mayor. The governor of Missouri is a Republican. And you just mentioned, hopefully after the election, you can get some sort of cohesive mandate going on around on the state. Have you felt like your hands have been tied by the governor and politics that perhaps tied your hands on trying to do what's best for your city?

QUINTON LUCAS: You know, I will always say and be respectful and say that we've worked together well. We'll continue to work together well. There are things that I might do differently if I were governor, but I didn't run for governor. He might do things differently as mayor. All we're going to do is try to make sure as many people, not just in Kansas City, but in the cities around us, can be as safe as possible.

And so that is my focus long-term. I think that's what we can get to, and that's what Kansas citizens want us to do. But look, I think that a national message that COVID-19 is still a threat is key. I think that making sure that everybody's understanding what's going on is key. And have a consistent medical advice, not fighting people, like Dr. Fauci. I'm not here to talk about the presidential election necessarily, but I do hope that its outcome leads to some consistency the day after so that Americans can be united again in how we fight the spread of COVID-19.

KRISTIN MYERS: Mayor, of course, as this pandemic continues to drag on, and we're seeing these surges in cases, I think it's only starting to really highlight, not just for individuals, but also for states and, you know, local municipalities, cities, for example, how badly stimulus is needed. Of course, stimulus right now is dead in the water for a couple more days, perhaps even weeks. Wondering how badly economic aid is going to be needed in Kansas City?

QUINTON LUCAS: Well, we need to fill about a $50 million budget gap, and that's not just a budget gap this year. We'll have the same one next year or the year after. It is very hard to find an extra $50 million unused to the around 80 organizations, and we're no different. What I find kind of ironic right now is that there are some who would say that Democrats and people in cities are trying to defund police departments.

Although there's nothing that is more efficient at defunding police departments than having significant budget cuts that we can't actually make better without actually having sustained cuts to police services, to core service delivery. I'm trying my best to ignore-- to avoid that. But look, we need help. We need help from the federal government, and I hope that they take those key steps in the future to make sure that that's addressed.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, well, we'll have to leave that there. Kansas City Mayor, Quinton Lucas, thanks so much for joining us today.

QUINTON LUCAS: Thank you.