Caitlin Finerty, 18, a Bloomfield Hills High School graduate, promotes the capital improvements millage proposal Aug. 4.

Caitlin Finerty, 18, a Bloomfield Hills High School graduate, promotes the capital improvements millage proposal Aug. 4.

Photo provided by Greg Kowalski, communications director for Bloomfield Township


Record-breaking primary goes smoothly

Eagle voters approve school bond, shake up board and more

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 11, 2020

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS/BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIPBIRMINGHAM/FRANKLIN — Last week, Bloomfield Hills Schools got a nod of support from voters, Bloomfield Township administration saw a shakeup, and races for state House and Senate seats, county sheriff and county executive kicked off.

But the big headline of the Aug. 4 primary election wasn’t what was on the ballot, it was the ballots themselves: a record number of them cast in the Eagle’s coverage area contributing to a record turnout countywide.

That’s especially impressive considering the obvious: The world is wrapped up in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Getting voters in and out of precincts took a little bit of extra attention ahead of time via online training sessions for poll workers, according to Birmingham City Clerk Designee Alexandria Bingham.

“The Clerk’s Office participated in numerous safety webinars and was constantly evaluating the needs of our community to keep our polling locations safe,” Bingham said in an email. “Fire Chief (Paul) Wells and Police Chief (Mark) Clemence were excellent resources. They were able to provide the Clerk’s Office with excellent advice and supply us with extra (personal protection equipment). It is amazing to see how all the departments working in the city will collaborate and adapt to support each other. It was really a team effort all across the board.”

The planning was worth the effort, she said, because not only have more Birmingham residents registered to vote over the past few years, they’ve also flipped the method by which they turn out. In 2016, a little over 19% of Birmingham’s registered voters cast a ballot in the August primary election, and two years later, that shot up to 37%, each time with more voters hitting the precincts than voting absentee. In 2020, the turnout was higher still, at around 39%, with just over 9% of those voters casting a ballot in person. More than 29% — or 5,318 ballots — were cast as absentee.

“I love analyzing data and learning for planning purposes,” Bingham added.

Bloomfield Township Clerk Jan Roncelli said that, even with the extra part-time help she hired back in July to tackle the additional absentee volume, her office still was overwhelmed on primary day.

“I am still recuperating,” said Roncelli Aug. 9.

About 47% of the township’s registered voters cast a ballot in the primary, but in-person voters accounted for just 11%. That amounts to around 300 voters for each of the township’s 18 precincts.

For example, in what was arguably the township’s most contentious race — the Republican candidate for township supervisor — 5,072 of the 7,937 votes were absentee.

Even still, the overall turnout was high — and that’s with the numerous spoiled ballots that were eliminated from the tally. Roncelli said many voters failed to follow directions and voted across party boundaries, resulting in disqualification of that portion of the ballot.

That certainly makes for a lot of counting, and like many other precincts around metro Detroit, results for contests in Bloomfield Township didn’t post until early in the morning Aug. 5.
“The absentee counting board worked long and hard to count all the ballots. They were exhausted but proud of their efforts,” she said.


Township races
When the votes were tallied, they reflected an upset at Township Hall: longtime Supervisor Leo Savoie lost his bid for candidacy. Instead, former Township Treasurer Dan Devine will be the Republican candidate for the seat, facing off against Democratic candidate and current Trustee Dani Walsh.

Devine, who has a controversial history with township government that includes a censure during his time as treasurer before he lost his bid for reelection in 2016, credits his 10-point plan for his 62% win.

“I wish my opponent the best ... and thank the taxpayers for their confidence in me,” Devine said in an email.

Savoie, who has met criticism from political opponents for years for a rotating list of accusations, said he hasn’t entertained or dismissed the idea of a write-in campaign for November, but for now, he’s satisfied with the race he ran.

“I guess all I can say is you had an election and it didn’t come out in my favor,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done anything different. I don’t know what I could’ve done differently.”

Incumbent Treasurer Brian Kepes, a Republican, will run unopposed for reelection. And as Clerk Jan Roncelli prepares for retirement this November, the sole Democrat for treasurer on the primary ticket, Martin Brook, will square off with Republican candidate Tom Smyly.

Currently, eight candidates — four Democrats and four Republicans — are running for four four-year terms at the township’s Board of Trustees table in November.


Schools make the grade
Voters approved a $200 million capital improvements bond for the Bloomfield Hills Schools district with a little over 61% of the total 15,266 votes cast.

BHS Superintendent Pat Watson thanked the community for its support in a prepared statement and said some people may notice survey crews on school properties preparing for the first phase of the project as soon as this week. He added that updates will be shared on the district’s website throughout the construction process over the next five to six years.

“Students are scheduled to move into their new configuration and renovated buildings in the fall of 2023 with all bond work complete in 2026,” Watson said in his statement. “While 2023 may seem far away now, there is a great deal of work to be done in a short period of time.”


Another chapter begins at Baldwin
In Bloomfield Hills, 1,544 voters cast a ballot to decide whether or not the city should continue to contract with Birmingham’s Baldwin Public Library for another six years of library services. Of that lot, over 67% opted to keep the arrangement going. The 0.3766-mill bond costs around $104 annually for a home with a taxable value of $200,000 and will stay the same price as the last renewal back in 2014, when voters approved it by a nearly 70% majority.


Franklin clerk prop a go
Finally, in the village of Franklin, voters narrowly approved a charter amendment proposal that will allow for the clerk to be appointed instead of elected, as the seat has traditionally been filled.

Of the 1,106 votes cast, 53% were for the change and 46% were against — that’s 587 and 519 votes, respectively.

For election results from Aug. 4, head to candgnews.com, and check back for up-to-date, hyperlocal coverage of the November election, including municipal and county races and proposals.  

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