Novi sees fewer early voters in presidential primary than last November

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published March 5, 2024

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NOVI — Voters across the state had the opportunity to physically cast their ballots early in the presidential primary election Feb. 27. For many, this was the first opportunity to cast their ballots ahead of election day, but for Novi residents, this was their second go at it after the city took advantage of the opportunity to do a trial run of early voting last November,

The option was not mandated statewide until this primary election.

“Early voting is different than election day voting,” Oakland County Clerk and Register of Deeds Lisa Brown said. “This isn’t at your precinct down the street. This is something different and for a minimum of nine days.”

Early voting starts the second Saturday before the election and runs for nine days, ending on the Sunday just before election day. In Novi, early voting hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. except on Thursday, when residents can vote noon-8 p.m.  In this past election, early voting ran Feb. 17-25.

Early voting commonly is held at a particular polling location for several municipalities. For Novi, Novi Township and the city of Northville, early voting is conducted at the Novi Civic Center. This gives voters the opportunity to place their ballot into the tabulator themselves, instead of submitting an absentee ballot, for which the City Clerk’s Office places the ballot into the tabulator.

Brown said the early voting went well overall and that the workers at the sites “loved it.” Her hope is that with each election, more and more people become familiar with and utilize early voting.

She added that absentee voters can take their ballots to their early voting sites and put them in the tabulators.

Novi City Clerk Cortney Hanson said that early voting went well. She said that those who participated in it expressed a lot of appreciation for the opportunity. However, she said it was pretty quiet over the nine days. According to Hanson, 482 Novi residents participated in early voting over the nine-day period. This was down from 530 voters who did so last November for the local election. Hanson said she thought the number would have increased for the primary election.

“I think once more people learn that it’s an option it will become more popular as the year goes on,” said Hanson.

On election day, just over 4,000 voters cast their ballots in person. The majority of participating Novi voters had already cast their ballots. Hanson said they had almost 8,000  absentee ballots submitted.

Hanson said that all ways of voting are “safe and secure.” However, she said that some people see early voting as valuable, as it is essentially the same as voting in a precinct on election day.

“It just gives people that added benefit of having put their ballot in the tabulator and a little bit more trust in the system,” Hanson said.

“We need to get the word out that early voting is an option, because it is now in the state constitution that we have early voting for nine days for both state and federal. So, we are running them whether people show up or not. So, we would like people to take advantage of it,” she said.

“For August, I think that is the most crucial election to do that for, because we see more spoiled ballots in an August primary than in any other election,” Brown said. “Because in an August primary, you have to, what we say, ‘Stay in your lane.’ You can only vote for one party’s candidate. And often when voters turn their ballot over, either they forget or they think it doesn’t count anymore — I don’t know what — and they cross over, and when they do that, they have now spoiled the entire partisan section of their ballots. So none of the votes in the partisan section will count.

“When you put it in the tabulator, and you’ve crossed parties in the August primary, it’s going to spit the ballot back out at you and you’ll have the opportunity to remedy that,” she continued. “If you return your absentee ballot to your local clerk’s office and have it counted on election day or whatever in an absentee voting counting board, there is no way to remedy that. So your partisan votes won’t count.”

In total, only 26% of registered voters in Novi, approximately 12,600 residents, participated in the presidential primary election. This is down significantly from the 2020 election, where about 37% of voters participated.

“We have been through a lot of changes with election law since 2018, and I am hopeful that as we work through elections this year, that we start to kind of see a new normal,”  Hanson said. “We have no-reason absentee (voting) now, we have early voting, there’s just so many options for voters that I think we will see a little bit of an increase in turnout that could potentially be due to we now have a permanent ballot list.”

Voters used to have to apply for an absentee ballot in every election. Hanson said they now have the option to be placed on a permanent ballot list whereby they will automatically be mailed a ballot for each election without having to reapply. She said this was also implemented as a result of Michigan Proposal 22-2, which added the option of early voting.  In the city of Novi, almost 9,000, or 20%, of the city’s 46,000 registered voters have signed up for the permanent ballot list.

Staff Writer Mike Koury contributed to this story.