Record turnout, ballot shortages mark primary

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published August 13, 2018



It was just before dinnertime last Tuesday, toward the end of the day during a highly anticipated midterm primary election. A faint noise could be heard near community centers and schools across metro Detroit.

The sound of municipal clerks saying, “Uh oh.”

Several precincts sprinkled around Oakland County fell short on ballots during the Aug. 7 election, when voters selected their party’s nominees to run in November for several House and Senate positions, along with candidates vying to replace term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder.

‘I knew two weeks ago’
Birmingham City Clerk Cherilynn Mynsberge said the turnout for her city was around 35 percent. To compare, the last midterm election of this kind — the one back in 2014 — saw just over 17 percent turnout in Birmingham.

“It’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing for democracy,” Mynsberge said. “But I knew about two weeks ago that we weren’t going to have enough ballots for the amount of voters.”

Looking at the lot she received from the Oakland County Clerk’s Office, Mynsberge requested before the election that more ballots be sent over. One hundred more came, with the message that she should call the county on election day if more were needed. Actually, when a precinct got down to its last 100 ballots was the time to call, she was told.

“So that happened at two precincts, so we called, and they brought over 100 more. Then we (got low) again, so we called again, and by then they were just overwhelmed, so I drove out there to get more,” Mynsberge said.

In some instances, residents in Birmingham waited around an hour to cast their vote. Mynsberge said she felt terrible, but couldn’t thank those voters enough for being so patient.

Bloomfield Township Clerk Jan Roncelli said she saw a nearly 43 percent turnout for the primary, with many participants being new voters. Southfield Township — encompassing Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms and Franklin — saw nearly 45 percent. Bloomfield Hills Clerk Amy Burton declined to comment.

“You could say it was higher than normal,” said Southfield Township Clerk Sharon Tischler with a laugh.

Tischler said she did a patchwork job to make sure every voter who went to the polls last Tuesday cast a ballot.

“Did we run out of ballots? In reality, that question is twofold: Did I run out of ballots printed specifically for polling locations? Yes. Did I run out of ballots? No. But we came really, really close at a couple places,” she said.

At two precincts in Southfield Township, Tischler said she took between 50 and 55 “test deck” ballots as real ballots for voters. Those ballots are typically just used in advance of an election by precinct workers to test machines and ensure they’re counting votes correctly.

A press release attributed to nearly 30 municipal clerks in Oakland County states that the voter turnout was “tremendous and record breaking.”

The release goes on to say that there is only one thing that could have prevented the shortage, but it wasn’t within their control: the number of ballots purchased for municipalities.

“I pulled as many leftover blank absentee ballots as I could, but there weren’t many. I grabbed ballot paper from old machines. I did everything I could,” Mynsberge said.

‘Anyone who asked for ballots received them’
“Not a single clerk contacted me personally,” said Lisa Brown, Oakland County clerk/register of deeds, in response to the statement by municipal clerks that the county clerk’s extra 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.

Many of the machines supplied to precincts were capable of printing ballots on-site, but Mynsberge said the county encouraged municipal clerks to order more ballots instead of printing them. Not to mention, she said, each ballot took several minutes to print.

“While they are not made for mass production, one of the reasons I chose those machines is the ability to print blank ballots if something ever happened, if the correct paper is used,” Brown said, adding that she had not experienced the ballots taking so long to print.

Other potential reasons for the shortage include spoiled ballots and misplaced ballots. Many election workers agreed that some voters didn’t pay attention to the directions to only vote for candidates in a single party, and those who strayed needed to start over with a new ballot. In Pontiac, one precinct worker allegedly said every voter spoiled three ballots.

Brown said one precinct she delivered extra ballots to had a stack of ballots still in shrink-wrap on the floor.

Joe Rozell, director of elections for Oakland County, said that in 97 percent of the 520 Oakland County precincts, there was “no issue, zero problems. While these were not countywide issues, we always want 100 percent.” He added that shortages occurred in two dozen precincts.

Both sides agree that the experience is one to learn from, and Mynsberge said that on her end she’ll not only make sure more ballots are available, but that she has more precinct workers to make sure voting runs smoothly.