Lines, lack of ballots define Clawson primary election

Royal Oak utilizes in-house print shop to avoid shortages

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 8, 2018

 Two precincts in the city of Clawson ran out of ballots during the Aug. 7 primary election, but Clerk Michael Smith said that every voter who wished to vote did successfully vote.

Two precincts in the city of Clawson ran out of ballots during the Aug. 7 primary election, but Clerk Michael Smith said that every voter who wished to vote did successfully vote.

File photo

CLAWSON/ROYAL OAK — In more than 10 years of working elections, Clawson Clerk Michael Smith said he had never experienced what he experienced during the Aug. 7 primary election.

Approximately 36.5 percent of Clawson’s 9,178 registered voters came out to cast their ballots at the city’s five precincts — a record number, which led to lines and the city running out of ballots several times.

“It was unprecedented,” Smith said. “We were able to get enough (ballots) in time and duplicate (ballots that were printed on legal paper instead of ballot stock) to make sure that everyone could vote.”

During a “normal” August primary election, Smith said, voter turnout is approximately 18 to 25 percent.

He said Precinct 1, located at Kenwood Elementary, ran out of ballots at approximately 6:15 p.m. He said he was able to manually print out ballots, which took approximately three minutes each, and hand them out to voters as they came out of the printer.

He said a line of approximately 30-40 people formed during that time.

“Luckily, the residents were very patient with us,” Smith said. “We got through about 25 of those until about 6:45, when we ran out of toner. The cartridge died.”

At that point, he said, he had to return to Clawson City Hall and print ballots on legal-sized paper and bring them back to the elementary school. At the end of the night, he said, election staff retrieved those ballots from the auxiliary bin and duplicated them onto actual ballot stock.

At approximately 7 p.m., Oakland County election representatives arrived with 50 additional blank ballots, he said.

“We used literally all 50 ballots,” Smith said. “The last voter in line got the 50th ballot. We used completely every single ballot.”

Besides Precinct 1, he said that Precinct 2, located inside Clawson City Hall, also ran out of ballots.

“Of course, everyone who was in line past 8 (p.m.) got to vote. I think we finished around 8:17 or something like that,” Smith said. “This was a very impressive (turnout), and we appreciate all the voters and their patience.”

He said Clawson election workers had the city’s results to the county by 9 p.m., and he described the election staff as “troupers” who worked together as a team to handle the situation as best as they could.

“I think (the high turnout is due to) the political climate right now. I saw a lot of first-time voters, a lot of younger voters and people really realizing your vote does count,” Smith said. “I also think (turnout was due) to having so many candidates running, with a lot of very ardent supporters of all the specific candidates.”

Royal Oak

Royal Oak Clerk Melanie Halas said that, while the city did not run out of ballots, the Aug. 7 primary election was “extremely stressful.” 

“I had our in-house print shop copy precinct ballots for us so that we were prepared while waiting for the extra ballot delivery the day of election from the county,” Halas said. “It was a very busy day, and the election workers did a great job.”

She said 37 percent of Royal Oak’s 48,028 registered voters came out to vote at the city’s 24 precincts, a significantly higher turnout compared to the 16 percent of voters who cast ballots in the August 2014 primary election. She said the city transmitted its results to the county just after 9 p.m.

“It was good to see the higher voter turnout for the primary,” Halas said. “I am sure we will have a very high turnout for the November election.”

Twenty seven Oakland County clerks, including Smith and Halas, issued a joint statement in response to ballot shortages across the county in which they apologized to voters who experienced difficulties due to the shortages.

“Each and every one of us was frustrated by the ballot shortages that occurred throughout Oakland County,” the statement reads. “The one thing that could have prevented this entire ordeal was not within our control: the number of ballots purchased for our municipalities.”

The statement says that local clerks could tell weeks before the election that their ballot orders would not be sufficient, but that they were not allowed to increase ballot quantities because county clerks control ballot ordering for elections.

“When the county did increase ballot quantities the week before the election, it was by a very small percentage and still not sufficient for most of our communities,” the statement reads. “Whether the solution is a change in law or a financial agreement with the county, we will make sure that we have the final say on ballot quantities for future elections.”

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said, “Not a single clerk contacted me personally,” in response to the statement by municipal clerks that her ballot order ahead of the election would still not be enough. She said she is going through staff emails as part of an internal investigation.

“Anyone who asked for ballots received them,” Brown said, adding that her staff drove all over the county to deliver ballots on Election Day.

“We’re looking forward to working with local clerks in partnership, recognizing we’re all a team and finding a solution so this doesn’t happen again, to move forward,” Brown said, and noted that the county is required to print a ballot for each registered voter for the November general election.

Staff Writer Terry Oparka contributed to this report.