Eagle voters expected in record numbers on Election Day

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 26, 2020


BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD — If you’ve had just about enough of the contention and stress of this election season, the good news is we’re rounding the corner. It’s almost over.

And local clerks have been working for months to make sure Election Day and all of the ballots cast Nov. 3 or earlier will be collected and counted without a hitch.

This will mark the first presidential election to take place under Michigan’s new absentee ballot law, which allows residents to vote absentee without providing a reason. So far, voters have taken advantage of the new convenience.

Each of the communities in the Eagle’s coverage area have set records for how many absentee ballots have been issued, and local clerks said the return rate has been just as impressive.

“As of right now, we have over 13,000 registered voters and have issued a little over 7,500 absentee ballots, with a little over 3,600 return through today,” said Sharon Tischler, the clerk of Southfield Township, which handles elections for the villages of Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms and Franklin.

Of the city of Birmingham’s nearly 19,000 registered voters, about 10,500 absentee ballots have been requested and issued. So far, just over 57% of those ballots have been returned. In Bloomfield Hills, 2,000 absentee ballots have been issued, and more than half had been returned as of the Eagle’s press time Oct. 23. That’s out of the city’s approximately 4,000 registered voters.

Bloomfield Township reported issuing more than 20,000 absentee ballots by early October, with more being distributed at the Clerk’s Office each day. In a video available on the township’s website, Clerk Jan Roncelli attributed the popularity of absentee voting this cycle in part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has some residents nervous to head to the polls in person.

That said, there’s no reason to fear in-person voting, Roncelli said. She, like most municipal clerks, have added thorough hygiene protocols to the training curriculum for poll workers this year.

“We’ll have all of the precincts open on Election Day, as we did in August, and anyone coming in there will be given a ballot and we’ll be treating them the same way in terms of personal protection equipment and standards, with my inspectors all wearing masks. There will be hand sanitizer, gloves for people, masks for people who want them as they come in and anything to make your visit to the polls convenient,” Roncelli said.

Despite pandemic fears, Birmingham City Clerk Alex Bingham said she’s certainly not short on poll workers, with each precinct in the city expected to have about 10 election inspectors and an additional two runners for anything precincts might need throughout the day.

“This is the first election in my 14 years of experience that we have had a surplus of interested workers,” Bingham said.

Bloomfield Hills City Clerk Amy Burton said she also had a surge of interested voters looking to serve as election inspectors.

“We have a dedicated group of election inspectors who have served for many years. We are looking forward to adding some new faces to our team to support all the important work that happens at a polling location and at the absentee ballot counting board on Election Day,” Burton said in an email.

And that’s a good thing, because in addition to keeping precincts spic and span, the extra workers will be a great help when it comes to guiding voters on how to properly cast their ballot.

Tischler said there have been lots of “spoiled ballots” from village voters, who were confused about how to fill out or return their ballot.

The most common mistake, she said, is voters choosing the option to vote a straight party ballot, and then later ticking a box for a candidate of an opposing party.

To be sure your ballot counts, clerks said voters should take special care to follow the instructions on the outside of the secrecy envelope included with each absentee ballot. Similar instructions will be on ballot folders for in-person voters.

Common mistakes that will spoil a ballot could include — but are not limited to — choosing a straight party ticket and then crossing over to vote for an opposing party candidate, using a marker or other writing utensil besides a ballpoint pen, and in the case of an absentee ballot, not using and signing the secrecy envelope, which contains the ballot itself and is placed inside the return envelope.

“If you have an absentee ballot, don’t waste it,” Bingham warned. “Read the directions, take your time and be careful. With every absentee ballot is a paper trail, time, effort and resources spent by the clerk’s office.”

Finally, clerks said they’re looking forward to seeing lots of friendly faces on Election Day, but they’re ready in case of some not-so-friendly ones, too. With reports coming in from across the country of voter intimidation tactics via phone, email and potentially in person Nov. 3, police said they’ll be on standby, just like they have for previous elections.

“As with any election, our officers give random extra patrols of polling locations,” Birmingham Police Cmdr. Scott Grewe said in an email. “Officers are not assigned to a particular location, and poll workers are advised to contact the Police Department if needed, and officers will be dispatched to that location. We will continue to evaluate our operation plans up to and including on Election Day and make any necessary changes.”

But there’s still time to mail early via absentee, Bingham said. Just don’t request a ballot by mail — it’s a bit too late for that. Head directly to your clerk’s office to fulfill your civic duty before Tuesday.

“If you want or have an absentee ballot, be proactive,” she said. “Get your ballot in person if possible and use your clerk’s drop box. Turn your ballot in as soon as possible.”

For more coverage of all the races and proposals that will be on the ballot in the Eagle’s coverage area, including profiles for candidates at the municipal, county and state levels, visit www.candgnews.com/news/elections.