City of Rochester Management Intern Thomas Hayes prepares absentee ballots for mailing to Rochester voters before the August primary election.

City of Rochester Management Intern Thomas Hayes prepares absentee ballots for mailing to Rochester voters before the August primary election.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

COVID-19 pandemic brings change on election day

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published July 28, 2020


ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — Local city and township clerks are busy preparing for elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether voters opt to cast absentee ballots or vote in person at precincts, there are a number of things to keep in mind.

Absentee ballot demand high
Rochester Hills City Clerk Tina Barton believes a lot of people will be voting absentee this year as a result of the coronavirus.

“We’re seeing an extremely large number of people voting absentee this time,” she said. “And because of the number of requests for the absentee ballots, our votes are going to be way higher than normal in a primary.”

At press time, Barton said the city had well over 16,000 absentee ballot applications.

“In November of 2016, the last presidential election, we only did around 13,000 (absentee ballots). We are in the first week of July, and we have already surpassed that by 3,000,” she explained.

During the primary election Aug. 4, Barton wants to remind voters that, within the partisan section, they must only vote in one party section and cannot split their ticket. If a vote is cast in more than one party section, she said, the partisan ballot will be rejected.

“I am very concerned that we’re going to see a large number of people vote absentee and when we go to put their ballot through the tabulator, it’s going to say that they crossed party lines, or they split their ticket, and anything that they voted in the partisan section is not going to count. We’ve already seen a lot of people spoiling ballots,” Barton explained. “I anticipate that the number of ballots cast and the number of votes tabulated are going to be two very different numbers, because I think we could see a large number of ballots with only the non-partisan section ending up counting, because people might vote incorrectly.”

Rochester City Clerk Lee Ann O’Connor said the city has also seen a tremendous increase — about four times as many — in absentee voter applications.

Rochester, she said, set a new record for the number of absentee ballots issued for any election, with over 2,076 as of July 5, with four weeks to go before the primary. The city also added 1,700 to the permanent absentee list, for a grand total of 2,600 at press time.

“Right now, I’m processing about another 300 today, so this is going to keep going up. From the original batch, I’m issuing probably 700 a week right now,” O’Connor said. “We’ll see if that slows down at all.”

Due to the passage of a statewide ballot proposal, all eligible and registered voters in Michigan may request an absent voter ballot without providing a reason by completing an online application at The last day to obtain absentee ballots by mail for the Aug. 4, 2020, primary is Friday, July 31 at 5 p.m.

“Somebody can get an absentee ballot in person all the way until 4 p.m. on the day prior to the election, but on that Monday, prior to the election, they will have to vote the ballot at City Hall,” Barton explained.

After receiving an absent voter ballot, residents have until 8 p.m. election day to complete the ballot and return it to their local clerk’s office. Officials said the ballot will not be counted unless the signature is on the return envelope and matches the signature on file.

O’Connor expects an increase in overall voter turnout in August, due to the sheer number of absentee ballot requests thus far.

“We sit at a good 20%-25% of our registered voters right now, as far as absentees. Typically, this election would only garner, in total, with election day, about a 15% turnout, so we’re right now at 25% and it hasn’t indicated any sign of slowing down, as far as the number of applications that are coming in,” she said.

Oakland Township Deputy Clerk Roxanne Thatcher said the township has doubled the number of people on its permanent absentee list, which she said still rises daily.

“We have also issued more absentee ballots now than we issued for the whole election in March,” Thatcher said. “We’ve doubled everything.”

Thatcher is already finding that some absentee ballot voters have split their ticket in the partisan section.

“We have a pile of spoiled ballots already,” she said.

In-person precinct voting procedures change
For in-person voting at the precincts, municipalities like Rochester and Rochester Hills will provide personal protective equipment for all election workers and voters at their sites.

All election inspectors in Rochester Hills will have face masks, face shields and gloves to wear while processing voters, Barton said. A hand sanitizer station will be located at each precinct, and all voting booths will be sanitized with wipes after each voter.

“We are going to be shutting down the booths after someone uses it — they’ll shut that down, wipe it down, leave it for a little bit so it can dry, then open it back up — so they are going to rotate the privacy booths,” Barton said. “We’re not going to use the sneeze guards because our thoughts are that most of our people are seated at a table when they’re processing the voters, so the voter is standing up over them. Unless the sneeze guard is really tall, it’s not going to do its job for someone that’s standing over you, looking down on you. That’s why we have the face shields, as well as masks and gloves.”

Rochester Hills is asking anyone entering a polling location to wear a face mask, stand 6 feet away from others, and wash or sanitize their hands before and after voting.

“We’re going to have signs up to maintain social distancing, so people should stand 6 feet apart as they are in line,” Barton said.

In Rochester, O’Connor said she is trying to eliminate commonly shared items — such as pens, pencils and secrecy sleeves — as much as possible.

“I’m going to fill baggies with the things voters need — a small pencil, a pen, an “I voted” sticker, the application to vote and the instructions — and have the workers hand that to them. It’s not going to be that busy, so it wouldn’t hold up a line, necessarily,” she said.

Instead of secrecy sleeves, Rochester plans to have voters use file folders on election day.

“We’re going to use file folders that don’t have to be reused throughout the day. They can just put them in a box when they put their ballot through, so they won’t be touching the same items other voters have touched,” O’Connor explained.

Election workers in Rochester will also wear masks, face shields and gloves. They will sit behind sneeze guards and sanitize privacy booths with wipes between voters. The city will also provide masks and hand sanitizer for voters.

Like election workers in Rochester, Thatcher said those in Oakland Township will also wear masks, face shields and gloves and sit behind sneeze guards. Township election workers will sanitize privacy booths, pens and secrecy sleeves with wipes between voters, she said, and provide masks and hand sanitizer on site for voters.

“Hopefully, each voter is respectful and wears a mask,” Thatcher said. “Everybody should feel safe and distanced throughout the day.”

Precinct hours are 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on election day, and absentee ballots must be returned to your local clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on election day.

For more information on your voter registration status, polling place, issues that will appear on your ballot, the absentee voting process and more, visit the Michigan Voter Information Center at

Voters to decide OPC tax
Voters in Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township will find a local tax proposal on their ballots Aug. 4.

The Older Persons’ Commission is seeking a renewal of its levy back up to 0.25 mills from Headlee rollbacks, plus a bump up, for a total of 0.32 mills for 10 years.
For a complete article on this issue, visit and search “OPC seeks tax renewal, increase on August ballot” on the Rochester Post page.

For results of the August primary election, visit our website and look to the next issue of the Post.