A sign points residents to Sterling Heights’ new election center, which is located at the city’s senior center.

A sign points residents to Sterling Heights’ new election center, which is located at the city’s senior center.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Election center busy as absentee voters swell

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 24, 2020


STERLING HEIGHTS — A new election center at the Sterling Heights Senior Center is ready to assist residents in exercising their right to vote in the Aug. 4 primary elections, particularly as many voters are choosing to fill out their ballots away from the polls.

At the July 21 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the election operations were moved to the senior center starting July 13. He said the move was done to lessen foot traffic inside City Hall due to social distancing and building renovations.  

“By moving the election operations across the street to the senior center, individuals are able to conduct that business in a very conducive environment for social distancing and the like,” he said. “And as you know, the senior center is closed to what have been normal, traditional senior activities, so this actually works out quite well.”

Vanderpool said residents may use the center to register to vote, get an absentee voter ballot, spoil an absentee ballot, ask miscellaneous election questions and more. He added that the clerk’s office, meanwhile, will still handle nonelection activities at City Hall, such as licensing, FOIA requests and more.

City Clerk Melanie Ryska said the election center has been well received.

“My team over there tells me that voters have been very thankful and grateful for them to handle their election business without coming to City Hall,” Ryska said. “Now through the election, if people want to register to vote, they must come in person to the election center.”

Ryska said voters who want an absentee ballot may get one at the center and either fill it out or take it home with them through Aug. 1. But on Aug. 3, they must fill out the ballot at the center, she said.

Ryska said the city has five ballot drop-off boxes: one by City Hall and the others at fire stations Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5. She said the increased demand for absentee ballots has required the clerk’s office to acquire temporary staff, which she added comes at a cost.

“We’ve issued about 24,000 absentee ballots so far for the August primary,” she said. “In the 2016 primary, we only issued 8,300, so we’re about triple what we did four years ago.”

Ryska said the city will do its best to post election results in a prompt fashion, but she said she anticipates that results will come in “later than usual.” In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder to find election workers, she said.

“A lot of people have health concerns. A lot of our election inspectors and poll workers are older residents,” she said. “So they rightfully have concerns about COVID. So we actually had about 40% of our staff opt to not return, so we actively recruit people to work the election now.”

Prospective election workers should email vote@sterling-heights.net to get an application or visit the city website’s elections and voting information page, she said.

In a video, Ryska said that the city is doing all in its power to preserve the election’s integrity with absentee ballots through a system of checks and balances.  

“I can tell you at first, the applications, when we receive them from voters, we check the signature; we compare that to their driver’s license file,” she said. “And then if that passes the litmus test, when the ballots come back, we check the signature that’s on the envelope of the ballot to ensure that that voter actually signed that ballot.”

The city added that all 45 precincts will have their polls open for the Aug. 4 primary elections. Ryska said the polls will be as clean as possible to ensure safety for all.

“We have masks. We also have face shields for workers to wear, gloves, sanitation spray, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes,” she said.

According to sample primary ballots found online, contested Democratic primary races within Sterling Heights include the 10th Congressional District, the county prosecuting attorney and county commissioner districts 4 and 5.

Contested Republican primary races include the 9th Congressional District, the 10th Congressional District, the Michigan House of Representatives’ 25th District, the county prosecuting attorney, the county sheriff, the county clerk/register of deeds, the county treasurer and the county commission 4th and 5th districts.

Some precincts may have a contested county convention delegate race for their political party. The nonpartisan section has a contested race for Macomb County probate court judge. Some races may not appear in a particular precinct due to its location.

Because this is a primary election, voters will only be allowed to vote for candidates in one party, so they can’t vote Democratic in one race and Republican in another.

The Sterling Heights election center, 40200 Utica Road, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, as well as 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 1. Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489. Find an online sample of what your ballot will look like by precinct by visiting mvic.sos.state.mi.us.