City clerks share thoughts on elections turnout, security

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 18, 2020

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — The general election this year saw more people voting in more ways due to the pandemic. But despite the surge in activity, election officials say they’re pleased with how smoothly everything went.

Hazel Park
Jim Finkley, the city clerk of Hazel Park, said that 7,901 voters cast ballots in Hazel Park during the Nov. 3 general election, a turnout of more than 60% of registered voters — a more than 20% increase from the turnout in the 2016 general election, in which 6,486 residents voted.

Of the people who voted in 2020, there were 3,666 Hazel Park residents who voted in person on Election Day, while a greater number — 4,235 residents — voted absentee.

“This is undoubtedly the first time that more Hazel Park residents voted AV than in person,” Finkley said in an email.

Perhaps predictably due to the pandemic, in-person Election Day voting actually dropped from 5,861 in the 2016 general election.

For the presidential race, looking at in-person and absentee combined, Joe Biden received 4,758 votes in Hazel Park, while Donald Trump received 2,953 votes.

Finkley said that all tabulation machines were tested for accuracy prior to the election to ensure they properly count votes.

“In-person voting on Election Day is fairly straightforward in terms of security. All voters have their IDs checked or must sign an affidavit attesting to their identity. The voters themselves deposit their ballots into the tabulator and receive a confirmation screen once it is accepted,” Finkley said.

Absentee ballots go through an even more rigorous verification process, he explained, including a series of checks by the City Clerk’s Office when applied for, issued and received.

In addition, the Absent Voter Counting Board has a system of checks and balances for each AV ballot. The city’s Receiving Board and the county’s Canvassing Board also perform additional verifications of the election results.

The whole process requires several months of prep work by dozens, if not hundreds of people, Finkley said. He noted that in addition to City Clerk staff, there are also other city staffers involved, along with precinct workers, Absent Voter Counting Board staff, and employees and volunteers at each building used as a voting precinct.

“Voters should know that these people are truly the bedrock of democracy,” Finkley said. “Unfounded allegations of election fraud are a slap in the face to everyone who gives their blood, sweat and tears in order to ensure that all votes are counted fairly and accurately.

“It is a welcome surprise when an election of such unprecedented size goes as smoothly as the 2020 general election did,” he added. “Due to the sheer number of AV ballots, and the fact that municipalities with under 25,000 residents cannot perform any kind of pre-processing before Election Day, it took longer than usual to finish counting AV ballots and transmit those results.

“Other than that, however, very few issues cropped up on Election Day,” he said. “The vast majority of voters were patient and respectful of one another. Overall, it went as well as could be hoped for at an election of such size.”

Madison Heights
A total of 15,373 votes were cast in Madison Heights during the general election Nov. 3, representing an increased turnout of 19.5% from the general election in 2016.

Of these, a majority of the ballots were absentee (9,680), while the rest were in-person (5,693). Compared to 2016, this represents a 41% decrease in in-person voting and a whopping 206% increase in absentee voting.

In Madison Heights, Biden received 8,450 votes total, while Trump received 6,574 votes total.

“There are many checks and balances that go into our election system that the public may not be aware of,” Cheryl Rottmann, the city clerk of Madison Heights, said in an email. “Every application for an absentee ballot is checked to make sure the signature matches the one we have on file in the Qualified Voter File system. Then we get the ballot back, the signature on the envelope is checked again to make sure it matches the QVF before it can be processed to be counted. Once we receive a ballot in the office, it is officially logged into the system, and every ballot that is received must be delivered to the Absentee Counting Board to be counted on Election Day.

“The number of ballots received must equal the number of ballots processed and counted,” she continued. “In addition, the ballots are counted by teams of Democratic and Republican election inspectors and they are never left unattended. It is a very safe, secure and transparent system.”

This security extends to precinct polling places as well, with both Republican and Democratic inspectors at each location. In addition, the voter has to submit an application attesting their qualifications to vote, and the Electronic Poll Book has a record of anyone issued an absentee ballot by the City Clerk’s Office, which prevents people from voting both absentee and in person.

“If someone was issued an absentee ballot and it was returned, they cannot vote at the precinct; if they were issued an absentee ballot and it was not returned, once that is verified by the inspector by calling the Clerk’s Office on Election Day, the voter has to fill out an affidavit, and then their absentee ballot is spoiled, and they are permitted to vote in the precinct,” Rottmann said.

She said that her team had been preparing all year for the presidential election.

“Both the staff in the (City) Clerk’s Office and the citizens who step up and work Election Day are what makes the election process possible. My staff is incredible, and without them, we couldn’t be successful at election administration,” Rottmann said.

She commended her deputy clerk, Annette Boucher, formerly a clerk in Berkley, for her efforts toward efficiency, accuracy and transparency. Boucher trained the Electronic Poll Book workers and was responsible for issuing absentee ballots.

Rottmann also offered praise for her election assistant, Amy Bessler, who took the lead in customer service for election-related inquiries, saying that Bessler helped acquaint first-time voters with the election process. Bessler also received and verified the signatures on the absentee ballots.

Additional kudos were given to Peg Marentette, a temporary election assistant; Anna Pereny, a part-time city employee who assisted on the election for the first time and did so admirably; and other city employees who pitched in to help with the deluge of early voters the week before election as well as same-day registrations, including Mary Daley, Jane Kaminsky, Madhu Rakshit and Ashley Yeatts.

“It takes a village, for sure,” Rottmann said.