Clerks prepare for elections during COVID-19 pandemic

By: Mike Koury | C&G Newspapers | Published June 23, 2020


OAKLAND COUNTY — The state of Michigan is a little more than a month out from its Aug. 4 primary election, though the preparations for that day have the unusual task of also taking COVID-19 into account.

As the coronavirus has warped the way in which Michiganders and the rest of Americans live their lives, local municipalities have begun preparing plans for how their local elections will look in August and November.

Ferndale City Clerk Marne McGrath said preparing for the elections in the age of COVID-19 has been an “interesting challenge.” She believes a lot of people will be voting absentee this year as a result.

“Part of what we’re trying to get out is a lot more communication and education about how absentee ballots are processed, and that they’re all counted, and how people can empower themselves to find out when we’ve received their ballot so that they’re aware it’s in the Clerk’s Office,” she said.

While noting people can apply for an absentee ballot online at the Michigan Voter Information Center, McGrath said that a lot of what they’re looking at is education on how voters can avoid having to come into City Hall to vote, as they want them to be safe, not feel like they need to make a choice between exercising the right to vote and protecting their health. Absentee ballots, she said, are expected to arrive at the end of the month and voters will be given return postage for the ballot.

“What we’re trying to accomplish right now is to process all of those absentee applications and make sure that as soon as we have ballots in hand, that we’re getting them out in the mail so people aren’t feeling like they have to come down to see where we’re at with their ballot,” she said.

For in-person voting at the precincts, cities such as Ferndale and Huntington Woods will be providing personal protective equipment for voters at their sites

Huntington Woods City Clerk Heidi Barckholtz said the city’s election workers will be using face masks and have talked about ways to sanitize tabletops, pens and making hand sanitizer available to voters at the entry and exit of the precinct.

“We’re going to encourage people to wear masks, but obviously we can’t enforce that at this point,” she said, “I mean, there’s no directive — from what I know of — from the state or the county. We’re going to encourage voters to wear masks, and obviously we will be practicing social distancing with everything — with my workers and polling locations, standing in line, the booths being farther apart, just maintaining social distancing at all times.”

Barckholtz said the state — which she believes is working on guidelines — is providing the city with PPE equipment, which includes gloves, masks and wipes.

“Each precinct will be supplied with that,” she said. “As far as anything additional, we haven’t gotten any direction. And I’m sure it’s coming. It’s just there’s a lot going on for everyone.”

McGrath said she’s hoping a lot of people take advantage of the opportunity to vote absentee, though she understands for some people that voting isn’t voting unless it’s in person.

“That’s fine,” she said. “We’re gonna be there for them, but they’re voting experience will probably be more comfortable voting (absentee), but absolutely we’re gonna have masks, gloves, everything we need to have so that folks that do want to vote in person feel as comfortable as people voting at home.”