Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown speaks during a presentation on early voting at the Novi Civic Center Oct. 18.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown speaks during a presentation on early voting at the Novi Civic Center Oct. 18.

Photo by Charity Meier

Novi to pilot early voting later this month

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published October 24, 2023


NOVI — The city of Novi will be one of 45 communities across Oakland County to pilot the new early voting system this election year.

Early voting provides registered voters with a way to physically cast their ballots up to nine days ahead of Election Day, and it is different than absentee voting.

“I can tell you at least in Michigan they aren’t the same thing,” said Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown.

In an effort to educate voters in his jurisdiction, Oakland County Commissioner Ajay Raman, D-Novi, organized a question-and-answer session at the Novi Civic Center Oct. 18. The session was led by Brown, with all city clerks in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners’ 14th District on hand to give input.

Early voting is different from absentee voting. Absentee voters are given a ballot and have to submit it to election officials by Election Day. An absentee ballot can be cast as much as 40 days ahead of the election. A city clerk will verify the signature on the envelope, and then the ballot remains sealed in the envelope and dormant until Election Day. With early voting, a person is able to go to a designated early voting site and physically cast a ballot into the tabulator. The information sits in the computer until Election Day and is counted with the ballots of those voting on Election Day.

“Let me first say that no tallies will be known or public for anybody to see until the polls close on Election Day,” Brown said. “I know some people have some concerns, like, oh, there’s going to be tapes and people are going to know who’s winning or that kind of thing. The machine — you can’t even print that out. You can’t print out the tape. It’s programmed that you can’t print out the tape until the polls close on Election Day Tuesday night. So no one will have any inkling as to how anybody is doing from early voting beforehand.”

According to Brown, the benefit to early voting is that it enables a voter who makes a mistake on a ballot and accidentally marks more than the allowed number of candidates for any one particular office, or votes for candidates from two parties in a primary,  the chance to correct the error. In absentee voting, she said, if a person votes for too many candidates, the votes in that particular election are not counted, as no one knows who that person is who made the mistake.

“If you are putting it in the tabulator, the tabulator is going to spit it back out at you and it will give you the option to have your ballot accepted as is … and your votes won’t count in that race, or take your ballot back, go back to the election worker and say, ‘Please spoil my ballot. I overvoted.’ … So you have the opportunity to correct your ballot,” Brown said.

However, if you have your ballot spoiled so that you can vote correctly, you must do so then and there, as you have already been marked off as having voted. You are not allowed to leave with your ballot.

Brown stressed that absentee ballots are always counted. She said that many people believe they are only counted if a race is close, but that simply isn’t the case.

“There are a number of bills that have been signed into law. Some things went into immediate effect. Some things did not. We don’t know when certain law changes will go into effect. One of those is the pre-processing for absentee ballots. So as it stands right now, we have to process absentee ballots on Election Day. You can start as early as 7 a.m., just like when the polls open, and you process those absentee ballots till you’re done,” Novi City Clerk Cortney Hanson said. “So if you have, you know, tens of thousands (of absentee ballots), that’s when you see those absentee results go into the morning of the next day, because you can’t start till 7 a.m. That will be different in the future, and that will be up to each clerk to decide how they want to do that. In a larger community, they might decide to pre-process. In a smaller community, they might keep it just Election Day.”

“But if you have a concern that your vote is not going to count if you vote absentee, you can vote early. You can put it in the tabulator and still get that confirmation from the tabulator; when you put your ballot in and the American flag pops up, you got confirmation that your ballot has been counted,” said Brown.

In Oakland County, early voting will be done for every election, according to Brown.

“I wanted continuity for voters. So we are going to be holding and running early voting for every election, not just federal elections. We are going to be doing it for every election. We are piloting it this November. We are the only county that is doing it,” said Brown.

Municipal clerks have the option of running early voting themselves, partnering with another municipality, or if the county offered it, partnering with the county. Forty-five of the 52 communities in Oakland County chose to partner with the county to do early voting. Brown said that in doing so, it provides a cost savings to taxpayers, as communities that partner together share the cost.

Oakland County communities not collaborating with the county to do early voting include Fenton, which has only 14 Oakland County voters; Brandon Township; Groveland Township; Auburn Hills; Bloomfield Hills; Rochester; and South Lyon.

Local city and township clerks helped to determine the locations. They wanted to have a place that would allow for enough polling booths to prevent lines from forming during early voting.

In Novi, early voting will take place at the Civic Center, 45175 W. 10 Mile Road, where early voters from Novi Township and Northville also will be early voting. There is also a central site, at the Waterford Activity Center, where anyone from one of the 45 communities can vote early.

Early voting hours will be the same for all 45 communities. The hours will be 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. every day of the week, including weekends — except Thursday, when the time for early voting will be noon-8 p.m. — from Oct. 28 through Nov. 5. A preliminary check of the equipment used for early voting was scheduled to be conducted Oct. 25, after press time, in front of the general public at the Oakland County Courthouse in Pontiac.