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Macomb Township

Township receives largest number of absentee ballots

November 7, 2012

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Macomb Township Clerk Michael Koehs sifts through a bin of absentee ballots. Before the Nov. 6 general election, the township sent out 12,000 absentee ballots: a record.

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — In the final week leading up to the election, the clerk’s office was busy accounting for and organizing the largest number of absentee ballots it had ever handled.

As of Nov. 1, the township had sent out 12,000 absentee ballots, a record, said Township Clerk Michael Koehs. Considering Macomb has 54,000 voters, the figure means nearly a quarter of the township voted absentee for the Nov. 6 election.

For many, an election is a one-day event, but most voters aren’t aware of the preparation taken by the clerk’s office leading up to it.

“A lot of people don’t see this side of it,” Koehs said, standing in a room lined with U.S. Postal Service bins filled with ballots returned by Macomb residents around the world. “You go get your ballot, you vote, you leave, but it took a yeoman’s effort to get it to work.”

The Macomb election workers had been prepping for the general election since August. They tested and retested ballots and equipment, and they ordered envelopes, absentee ballots and secrecy sleeves for each precinct. The clerk’s office organized and trained 360 volunteer poll workers to man its several precincts.

After polls close Nov. 6, the votes cast that day and days prior are tabulated, sent to the county and merged into a final sum that will decide, among other positions, whether Michigan voted for President Barack Obama or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

For the last week, it was all about organizing the last-minute absentee votes with return addresses touching every part of the globe, from the Czech Republic to military camps in Afghanistan.

Mickey Todd, an election coordinator for the township, has even instructed deployed soldiers via Skype on how to vote absentee.

“I download (the ballot), and I shoot it to them,” Todd said. “I talked to a guy from Camp Alamo (in Afghanistan). He literally could not leave his base.”

Because Michigan is one of the rare states that leaves the responsibility of running elections to the local government and not the county, the buck stops with local clerks like Koehs.

“It’s a lot of stress on the clerk,” Koehs said. “Your name is on everything.”

He compared the stress to organizing a large family gathering. While planning the event, you can adjust the dates based on everyone’s schedule, but there’s no rescheduling the election.

“You don’t move election day for anything, even (Superstorm) Sandy,” Koehs said. “You’ve got one shot and it has to hit the bull’s-eye. If not, you’re going to make front-page news.”

So far, his staff has avoided that mess, he said, while knocking on wood.

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