Oakland County happy with how early voting worked during presidential primary

By: Mike Koury | C&G Newspapers | Published March 5, 2024


OAKLAND COUNTY — For the Feb. 27 presidential primary election, Oakland County had its first real test with its early voting sites.

Back in November 2022, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed them to vote early and in-person. Some municipalities took part in a pilot program last November on early voting, but last week’s election was the first time every city took part.

“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 began on Feb. 17 and ended on Feb. 25. Oakland County had 18 regional voting sites and one central site in Waterford.

Berkley, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge shared an early voting site with Oak Park at the Oak Park Community Center, while Ferndale shared one with Royal Oak Township and Hazel Park at the Hazel Park Community Center.

“We had early voting sites where we partnered communities together,” Brown said. “If you think about Huntington Woods, Huntington Woods doesn’t have a place that could have been used for nine days straight up of early voting that would have ample parking and everything else … so we put communities together. We actually did do site visits when communities that we partnered together thought that there was more than one possibility for a site, and the Oak Park space just is a great space. It works for everybody.”

Huntington Woods City Clerk Heidi Barckholtz said the early voting went well overall at the Oak Park site. According to the County Clerk’s Office, there were 9,981 voters who showed up to the early voting sites countywide over the nine days.

“It went very smoothly. People were able to get in and out, Barckholtz said. “Our site was not quite as busy as some of the other sites, but we didn’t have a local ballot, so turnout overall wasn’t great.”

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.

“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.”

Brown was able to visit some of the early voting sites and took notes about anything that could be improved, such as whether they needed more signage or if there was enough equipment.

“For example, the Rochester Hills/Oakland Township location is our busiest. … We’re gonna readjust the layout of everything there to make it a better flow,” she said. “But all the workers that I talked to loved it, they loved working it, they loved the process, and the voters have really enjoyed it as well.”