Pack patience for Election Day

St. Clair Shores city clerk can preprocess absentee ballots the day before, but still expects a long day Nov. 3

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 16, 2020

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — The state Legislature has made it easier for clerks to begin making their way through thousands of absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a short day for clerks and election workers.

St. Clair Shores can take advantage of Public Act 177 of 2020, which allows the city clerk in a community with a population of more than 25,000 to start processing absentee ballots the day before the election. Election workers can preprocess ballots from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 2 by opening the absentee voter ballot envelopes, removing the absentee voter ballot inside its secrecy sleeve from the ballot envelope with the ballot stub attached, check the stub number against the absentee voter precinct listing and then secure the ballots in their secrecy sleeves in a container until Election Day, when the stub will be removed and the ballots tabulated beginning at 7 a.m.

This is the first time municipal clerks have been able to do anything to ballots before the morning of Election Day.

“It’s a great first step, so I’m thankful for anything we can get this year,” said St. Clair Shores City Clerk Mary Kotowski.

As of Oct. 14, the city had issued 20,341 absentee ballots and had 9,900 of them returned.

The process does add a step of counting the ballots secured in the box overnight on Election Day to make sure they are all accounted for, even though the box will be sealed and the ballots will have been counted by the clerk’s office before being given to the election workers.

Then, at 7 a.m. on Election Day, “we can start pulling them out of secrecy sleeves and pulling the stubs off,” Kotowski said.

“When we opened 12,000 ballots in August, they started at 7 a.m. in the morning and they finished opening about 11:30 (p.m.),” she said. “Even though we have five high-speed letter openers, it still takes time.”

There are more than 50,000 registered voters in St. Clair Shores, so if every one of the 20,341 absentee ballots was returned, that would mean a 40% turnout before a resident casts a ballot at a polling location on Election Day, Kotowski said, adding that her office is still issuing about 100-200 more absentee ballots every day either from online applications or voters stopping by her counter in City Hall.

“We’re printing those applications every day and we’re turning around ballots within 24 hours,” she said. “We could end up at 22,000 by Election Day.”

The 2016 presidential election had a 71% turnout with 11,600 absentee ballots returned. And while more residents are utilizing absentee voting this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kotowski said she wants to assure them that their ballots will be kept secure and won’t be counted until Election Day.

“We can preprocess, but no ballot goes through the machine until Tuesday” Nov. 3, she said. “That’s when they’ll start tabulating. I think it’s going to be a long, busy day for us.”

Voters can still get registered to vote as well as get an absentee ballot on the spot at the clerk’s counter until 4 p.m. on Election Day. In addition, the Clerk’s Office will be open late Oct. 20, 26 and 29 until 7 p.m. to accommodate residents needing to register to vote or get an absentee ballot. The Clerk’s Office will also be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 31.

Kotowski encourages absentee voters to get their ballot in the mail as soon as possible; Oct. 19 was two weeks before the election and what she feels is an adequate amount of time to get a ballot through the U.S. Postal Service to her office. Otherwise, there are six drop boxes at City Hall where residents can drop their absentee ballots: one at the clerk’s counter and across the hallway from the counter at City Hall, one in the hallway of City Hall, one in the circle drive in front of City Hall along Jefferson Avenue and two in the parking lot behind City Hall.

“If they’re going to the polls, they should go to michigan.gov/vote to make sure they are registered and going to the right precinct. If they go at peak time, they need to know there might be a wait,” Kotowski said. “A lot of people want to vote on their way to work and after work, and we’re going to encourage people to practice social distancing, as well.”

Many of the polling locations are large areas, like gymnasiums, so the city purchased floor stickers and arrows to remind voters to practice social distancing.

“We want to keep everyone safe,” she said. “I hope voters will be patient and follow rules in the state,” which include no campaigning inside the polls on Election Day. That means voters are asked to refrain from wearing attire sporting political slogans or logos, or supporting a specific politician, to the polls.

Along with patience, Kotowski asks residents to be considerate of election workers.

“Those people working so you can vote on Election Day are our neighbors and our residents, so be nice,” she said.

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