Grosse Pointe Farms voters fill out ballots at Grosse Pointe South High School Nov. 3.

Grosse Pointe Farms voters fill out ballots at Grosse Pointe South High School Nov. 3.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Large numbers of absentee ballots cast in Grosse Pointe Farms, Shores

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 4, 2020


GROSSE POINTE FARMS/SHORES — Polls might have been bustling in the morning at many precincts in the Grosse Pointes, but by the evening? Crickets.

“I feel like the Maytag repairman,” Grosse Pointe Shores City Clerk Bruce Nichols said with a laugh around 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3, referring to the famous commercial character anxiously awaiting a flood of calls that never come. “Where is everybody?”

Nichols then answered his own question.

“They already voted,” he said.

In the Wayne County portion of the Shores — which accounts for most of the city — nearly 68% of ballots cast were absentee, according to unofficial numbers available at press time. Officials said 81% of the Shores’ 2,562 registered Wayne County voters — 2,086 — cast ballots in this election. In the Macomb County section of the city, which only has 67 registered voters, absentee vote tallies weren’t separated out from Election Day votes. Nearly all of those 67 voters — 63 — made their voices heard in this election, for a voter turnout of 94%.

“It’s probably the highest we’ve ever had,” Shores Election Administrator Tom Krolczyk said of the absentee ballot count.

In the Shores, which remains heavily Republican, incumbent Republican President Donald Trump emerged victorious, with 1,344 votes in the Wayne County portion of the city and 40 in the Macomb County portion. Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden received 22 votes in the Macomb section and 714 in the Wayne County section, according to unofficial vote tallies available at press time. Likewise, Republican senatorial candidate John James did considerably better than Democratic incumbent Gary Peters, with James getting 1,422 votes in the Wayne County portion of the Shores and 39 in the Macomb portion, compared to Peters with 637 votes in the Wayne segment of the city and 23 in the Macomb portion.

Despite the large number of absentee ballots, Krolczyk said polls in the Shores had been “very busy all day.”

“We were lined up out the door this morning,” he said. “I think everybody wanted to get it done early.”

A postal worker made sure that a Shores voter who accidentally dropped a ballot in the mailbox instead of the nearby Shores municipal drop box wasn’t omitted from the electoral process. Shortly before the polls closed Nov. 3, mail carrier Aaron Gowdy — who found the ballot — brought it to Shores city offices and handed it off to Nichols so that it could be counted. Gowdy said he was “just being helpful.”

“Turnout this morning was phenomenal,” said Connie Boris, chair of Precinct 1 at Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms. “We’ve got a lot of voters that I’ve never seen in these past 10 years. And I saw a lot of young voters and first-time voters. It’s exhilarating to see.”

Precinct 1 Co-Chair Kara Hardenbrook also said the day had been “really, really busy,” with the city enjoying “fantastic turnout” from voters.

The Farms’ Precinct 4, at Kerby Elementary School, likewise saw the largest in-person turnout early in the day.

“The morning was jammed. But as you can tell, the evening, nothing,” said Precinct 4 Chair Donna Carloni, pointing to scores of empty voting booths.

In the Farms, unofficial vote tallies available at press time showed voter turnout of 82.12%, with 7,539 of the city’s 9,181 registered voters taking part in the November election. Just over 67% of Farms voters this year — 5,083 — cast absentee ballots.

“That was very surprising,” Farms City Clerk/Assistant City Manager Derrick Kozicki said.

Even with large numbers of early voters, he said election workers were still seeing many in-person voters.

“Voter turnout (at the polls) is higher than expected, especially considering the high number who voted ahead of the election,” Kozicki said.

Like the Shores, the Farms tends to favor Republican candidates — 56.51% cast straight-party tickets for Republicans, compared to 42.88% who cast straight-party tickets for Democrats. Still, Trump eked out only a narrow victory over Biden in the Farms, with only a 10-vote lead over his challenger; Trump received 3,714 votes, compared to 3,704 for Biden, unofficial tallies show. In the Senate race, James received 4,113 votes — 54.99% — versus 3,326 votes, or 44.47%, for Peters.

The COVID-19 pandemic was apparent this election season. Nichols believes the pandemic played a significant role in the uptick in early voting.

“Our people in Grosse Pointe Shores are pretty smart,” Nichols said. “If they can avoid exposure to COVID, why wouldn’t (they)?”

For those voting in-person, extra precautions to keep voters and election workers safe were everywhere. Lynne Haggart, chair of Precinct 4 at Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park, said they were wiping down everything — including communal pens, pencils and voting booths — with each use. Hand sanitizer was plentiful. Election workers were seated apart and separated from voters using doubled banquet tables.

“We’ve got extra masks, if people forgot them,” said Haggart, noting that as of Election Day evening, only one voter had needed one.

Kozicki said the Farms was also sanitizing pens, pencils, ballot sleeves and surface areas, as well as providing election workers with masks and gloves. He noted open windows and doors as well, which were providing additional ventilation, as recommended by health officials. 

“The school district was very helpful in helping us hold a safe election by providing us adequate space to social distance,” Kozicki said.

Second District State Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, was returned to office for another two-year term. Tate’s district includes Grosse Pointe Farms, City, Park and a portion of Detroit. Tate faced challengers Mayra Rodriguez, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, and DaNetta L. Simpson, of Detroit, who had no party affiliation.

In his second term, Tate said, he hopes to focus on infrastructure and solutions to the flooding problems that have impacted many waterfront residents in his district. 

The jury is still out as to who’s responsible for repairing the crumbing seawall along Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Farms and Shores — city officials say it’s up to Wayne County to pay for it because the county built the original seawall and Lake Shore is a county road, while some county officials have said it’s the responsibility of the cities. The federal government has recently been added to the mix, given that Lake St. Clair is an international body of water. Even though it’s not necessarily a state problem, Tate said that in the pre-COVID-19 days, there were a lot of conversations to see if there were resources on the state’s end that could be applied toward a new seawall. He hopes to see those conversations continue.

“It’s certainly a big issue to tackle,” Tate said of the deteriorating seawall, which city officials say is hazardous for pedestrians and is likely undermining Lake Shore Road and could lead to future sinkholes. “I believe there will be several layers of support that will be needed, because it is a significant cost. I think we’ll have to get creative and get all levels of government engaged in this.”

Tate, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and political partner with the Truman National Security Project, was impressed with the high voter turnout statewide, particularly the large number of absentee ballots cast, a figure he said surpassed 3 million.

“That’s really positive,” Tate said. “I think it shows that if we lower barriers for folks to vote, they’ll get out to vote.”