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County, local clerks prepare for upcoming elections

Large increases in absentee ballots already realized

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published July 24, 2020

 On July 15, Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Fred Miller, left, and Macomb County Director of Elections Michael Grix took delivery of a shipment of personal protective equipment to be used by local municipalities in the 343 voting precincts for the Aug. 4 primary election. 

On July 15, Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Fred Miller, left, and Macomb County Director of Elections Michael Grix took delivery of a shipment of personal protective equipment to be used by local municipalities in the 343 voting precincts for the Aug. 4 primary election. 

Photo provided by Macomb County Clerk’s Office

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MACOMB COUNTY — The COVID-19 pandemic is not stopping county and municipal clerks from properly preparing for the Aug. 4 primary election.

On July 15, the Macomb County Election Department, including Clerk/Register of Deeds Fred Miller and County Director of Elections Michael Grix, took delivery of a shipment of personal protective equipment to be used by municipalities in the county’s 343 voting precincts in anticipation of the primary.

The shipment contained hand sanitizer, surface disinfectant, masks, gloves and face shields — all of which were separated into bundles for different polling locations. The acquisition and delivery of the PPE was coordinated by the Michigan Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections, which utilized federal CARES Act dollars.

Similar materials will be made available for the Nov. 3 election, adhering to evolving guidelines provided by public health authorities. The state’s Bureau of Elections is reportedly consulting with officials in other states to learn about material distribution, equipment usage and the “burn rate” of supplies.

“True to Michigan’s system of elections, which involves cooperation and coordination between municipal, county, and state offices, this is a cooperative effort to protect the health of voters and election workers alike,” Miller said in a press release. “These efforts to keep people safe, along with the new right for all Michigan voters to vote at home via absentee ballot, will help make sure that everyone has a chance to participate in the pivotal elections on Aug. 4 and Nov. 3.”

As of July 21, Miller said the number of Macomb County voters requesting absentee ballots for the primary is 46% higher than the total number of voters — both absentee and on election day — from the 2016 primary. A total of 171,126 absentee ballots had been issued to county voters, and 58,655 ballots, or 34% of them, had already been returned and processed as of July 21.

In 2016, Macomb County had a total of 117,297 voters participate in total, of which 62,538 ballots, or 53.3%, were absentee. That election saw a 19% countywide voter turnout.

“Clearly, the new rights for Michigan voters due to Proposal 3, which allows any eligible voter to vote an absentee ballot, is a likely factor in driving the higher number of requested absentee ballots,” Miller said July 21. “The numbers indicate a heightened level of interest in voting.”


Local clerks anticipate big absentee returns
On July 20, Harrison Township Clerk Adam Wit said that 6,239 absentee ballots had been issued to township residents, with 1,880 of those ballots returned to the Clerk’s Office.

The numbers now compared to 2016 have essentially doubled, when 3,050 absentee ballots were issued four years ago.

Wit contributed the big increase to the passing of Proposal 3 in November 2018, along with the effects of the pandemic. He said the elevated level of political interest since 2016 may also play a factor.

“I think the majority of voters will be absentee,” he said.

Harrison Township has 10 polling precincts. Wit said the township is “in a good spot” due to planning and strategizing at the onset of COVID-19.

“We try and take into account the recommendations of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the state Bureau of Elections,” he said. “We worked with the fire department to secure PPE for precinct workers. We’re adapting some of our policies for correct social distancing. We’re taking everything into advisement.”

As of July 21, Clinton Township Clerk Kim Meltzer said that the township had issued 21,579 absentee ballots. A total of 7,150 of those ballots had already been returned.

She said the township historically has between a 94% and 98% return rate on such ballots, estimating that the total number of received absentee ballots by Aug. 4 will be approximately 25,000.

In 2016, fewer than 9,000 Clinton Township absentee ballots were received.

Meltzer gave the public a notice during the virtual June 29 Board of Trustees meeting that many ballots were mailed June 25, while another batch would be mailed July 1. She said July 21 that “we had mailed ballots already (by June 25) so we were in compliance” with the state Bureau of Elections.

As for preparing for the August and November elections, Meltzer mentioned different methods of innovation.

For example, rather than provide usual in-person mandatory training to election inspectors, her office utilized the township’s community relations and media services department to create multiple videos on election measures like opening and closing precincts, and more.

And rather than do all in-person laptop training for polls, some in-person training was done with limited capacity, while virtual training was done using repurposed 10-year-old computers. That cost was about $285 to administer.

“This was a huge hit out of the park,” Meltzer said. “If this pandemic hit 10 or 15 years ago, we would have been in a lot worse shape.”

All of Clinton Township’s 46 precincts will be equipped with PPE, including gloves, masks, face shields, pens, sanitizers and decals imploring six-foot social distancing measures.

She also encouraged residents to use township drop boxes rather than the U.S. Postal Service, due to short staffing at USPS and the possibility that ballots may not be delivered back to the clerk. Voters will be notified by email when their ballots are successfully received.

Fraser City Clerk Kelly Dolland said that, as of July 21, a total of 2,844 absentee ballots had been sent out and approximately 31% had been returned. That is a 64% increase from the 2016 August primary and a 38% increase from the November 2016 general election.

“We are keeping abreast of the overwhelming amount of ballot requests and voters’ procedural, safety (and) secrecy questions regarding the absentee voter process,” Dolland said July 21. “With the onset of COVID-19, many long-term election workers have chosen not to return. Securing new election workers has proven to be a challenge. However, the team we have developed are excited and enthusiastic to be part of this great event.”

Dolland added that the city will follow all safety protocol directed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

All voters can check their registration, precinct information and whether absentee ballots have been successfully delivered by visiting www.michigan.gov/vote.

Absentee ballots must be received by the city or township clerk, either in person or via mail, by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 4, to be counted. Voters cannot drop off absentee ballots at neighborhood polling locations on Election Day, as ballots must be delivered to city or township clerk’s offices.

Citizens can register to vote or update their registration location in person only, up to and including Election Day, at their city or township clerk’s office.

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