Election workers and voters take precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 during the August primary election in St. Clair Shores.

Election workers and voters take precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 during the August primary election in St. Clair Shores.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

Pandemic doesn’t keep St. Clair Shores voters from the polls

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 7, 2020


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Citing beliefs such as shopping at a grocery store isn’t any safer than casting a ballot, voters still turned out in person to vote in the primary election Aug. 4, although absentee voting helped propel voter turnout to a much higher than average 34.9% in St. Clair Shores.

St. Clair Shores City Clerk Mary Kotowski said 4,996 residents voted at the polls on election day, while 11,936 people cast absentee ballots, more than the total number of residents who voted in the 2016 primary election.

“It’s been a really long time since we’ve been that high in a state primary,” she said.

The Clerk’s Office issued more than 15,500 absentee ballots to residents who wanted to vote from home. In contrast, four years ago, St. Clair Shores had a 22.1% voter turnout in the 2016 primary election, with 10,538 voters casting a ballot.

Voters at the polls said they still felt it was the right thing to do to come out on election day.

“There’s concerns about the pandemic, but voting is probably the most important thing you can do as a citizen,” said Mark Stroster.

He and his family came to vote in person in the August primary election, taking precautions for their safety — wearing masks, bringing hand sanitizer and their own pens.

For his wife, Jean Stroster, this is not the first time voting in a mask. She’s had chemotherapy and her compromised immune system necessitates that she take precautions for her health.

“I don’t think anything is wrong or uncomfortable about it,” she said, adding that in the last 10 years, she’s only missed voting in one election because she was sick at the time.

“Workers ... usually recognize me and ask me how I’m doing,” she continued. “It’s important to me to vote.”

She said she might vote absentee in the November general election, but she felt that most people were following the proper safety guidelines for the August primary.

All 23 precincts were done being counted by 11:30 p.m., Kotowski said. One of the city’s high-speed tabulators went out of service during the day and had to be repaired. Without that hiccup, she estimated they could have been done by 9:30 or 10 p.m.

“We had 39 people at the AV board, which is probably a record for me,” she said.

The first group of election workers began opening ballots at 7 a.m. using high-speed letter openers, making way for the first precincts to begin being counted by about 10:30 a.m. Aug. 4.

Kotowski said that, despite having many new election workers, they did a great job without any major mistakes.

Angelo Lafata said his wife was scared to come vote, but he’s been going to work so he’s used to dealing with the public. He had a mask on and said he wore gloves to be sure he was protected.

“It’s an everyday way of life now,” he said. “I’d rather just come (to the poll).”

“I’m OK with it,” agreed Judy Lambert. “I’m wearing my mask, but I’m not afraid.”

Dale Edwards, chairperson of Precinct 17 in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Bruce Post 1146, said things had been slow so far on the morning of Aug. 4. Still, he said, the precinct was prepared with two bags of personal protective equipment and enough pens for voters to keep one through the entire process and not have it be reused that day.

“Everybody’s got the face masks on. We’ve got masks in case somebody wants” one and didn’t bring their own, he said.

He said it didn’t bother him to work the poll during the election because he already deals with the public in his job at the St. Clair Shores Golf Course. Nevertheless, he said he tries to be careful because his wife has a compromised immune system and they care for their two granddaughters, as well.

“I have to be careful,” he said. “What more can you do?”

Edwards said the polling location is more crowded because of the need to keep polling booths 6 feet apart, but he said it would likely be more difficult and more crowded when more people turn out to vote in the November election.

Kotowski said voters should be prepared for longer lines and longer waits in the next election; typically, there are twice as many absentee voters to count in a November election than in an August primary. There will be a lot of choices to make on the presidential ballot, so she encourages voters to be familiar with the ballot before they come to the polls.

“We’re going to plan, we look at everything we did, what we can improve on,” she said. “The presidential election always brings out voters who don’t vote all the time.”

She said she would like to see the state Legislature make changes to allow her office and election workers to begin processing absentee ballots ahead of election day. Michigan law doesn’t allow even the envelopes to be open until polls open at 7 a.m. on election day.

“Even doing the paperwork processing the day before ... we can’t do that. Other states allow their precinct workers to do this days before and Michigan does not, so it’s going to be hard to facilitate getting done on election day,” she said.

It made for a long day for staff members, she said, many of whom began at 5 a.m. Aug. 4 and didn’t leave the office until about 1 a.m. Aug. 5.

The St. Clair Shores City Clerk’s Office is hiring election workers for the November general election. Anyone wishing to apply can download an application from www.scsmi.net/876/Election-Inspectors.