Ferndale adds precincts in preparation for presidential election

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published December 23, 2015

FERNDALE — Nearly four years after the city of Ferndale decreased its number of voting precincts from nine to seven, City Clerk Marne McGrath requested Dec. 14 that the City Council approve a new layout featuring nine precincts again to combat long lines on Election Day.

The city had reduced the number of precincts at the end of 2011 due to decreasing registered voters in the city, but voters experienced long waits during the 2012 presidential election, when 63 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls.

The new precinct layout, which the council approved unanimously, will reduce the number of registered voters per precinct from an average of 2,225 to 1,900. Another presidential election will take place in November 2016.

“After the excessive wait times of the November 2012 election, the City Clerk’s Office thought it was prudent to expand back to nine,” McGrath said. “It was not necessary to make that change prior to 2016 due to lower turnout in elections prior to then. The reduced number of registered voters will help a lot with wait times.”

Another reason for reworking the precincts was to change the polling locations for all but two of the precincts. Because of restructuring in the Ferndale and Hazel Park school districts, the city has lost several polling locations, including the Harding and Wilson buildings in the Ferndale School District.

Residents in precincts 2 and 7 will continue to vote at Ferndale High School and the Detroit Curling Club, respectively, while precinct 1 will vote at Renaissance Vineyard Church; precincts 3 and 9 will vote at the Kulick Community Center; precinct 4 will vote at Coolidge Intermediate School; precinct 5 will vote at the Ferndale Area District Library; precinct 6 will vote at Ferndale Free Methodist Church; and precinct 8 will vote at the Autumn House.

McGrath said precinct 8 is a little smaller than the rest because the parking situation at Autumn House is not ideal, so many residents are within walking distance of the precinct. According to state law, precincts should be located at a publicly owned facility when available, or a nonprofit organization when not.

Similarly, the Kulick Community Center will be used for two precincts, as McGrath said the building has two distinct entrances that will keep the polling locations separate.

Councilman Greg Pawlica said the changes in precincts were a combination of unforeseen changes and school district lines, which combined to make it difficult to get the precinct lines perfect.

A portion of Ferndale residents on the east side of the city fall within the Hazel Park School District.

“Four years ago when we made the change, who would have thought then that University High School (at the Wilson building) would be closing?” Pawlica asked. “On the east side, because part of the city falls in another school district, there was very little wiggle room where we could create those precincts. Otherwise, we would be creating a polling location in one area with two different ballots, and that would be total chaos.”

McGrath also said the elimination of straight-party voting, which was approved by the state House of Representatives and Senate Dec. 16, will add more time to the voting process for many.

“In the recent 2014 November election, we had 45 percent of voters use the straight-party voting option,” she said. “The elimination of straight-party voting does stand to make voting take a lot longer, with estimates taking three to eight additional minutes per voter.”

Moving forward, the city will mail new voter registration cards to all affected voters by Jan. 4, which falls within 60 days notice of the next election, which is scheduled for March 8.  A newsletter will be sent out containing the updated map and polling locations, along with updates on the city’s social media pages.

McGrath said it will cost about $5,800 for all the mailing, and the city will look to hire at least eight new workers for the precincts, with costs estimated to be around $1,500 more per election for the staffing.

In 15 years living in Ferndale, McGrath said her polling location has changed five times, but she feels confident in the latest changes being consistent for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t foresee there needing to be a change, as we worked with both churches and the public locations to make sure they understand this is a long-term commitment,” she said. “We looked at this with an eye of not having to make another change, so we wanted to make it as long term and sustainable as we could.”