Aug. 4 is the Primary Election in Michigan. One provision of new laws making it easier for citizens to vote is the availability of absentee balloting for any registered voter who asks for “no reason.”
Previously, absentee ballots were available only for specific reasons, like health or age.
Irving Township Clerk Sharon Olson sees “no reason” absentee voting as a good thing because it will likely increase voter turnout.
Voters are more likely to vote if they can make decisions at their convenience and put the ballot in the mailbox instead of driving to the polls to vote. Still, she said,” some like to come to the township hall and vote for the community feeling.”
Voters can bypass the mail by bringing their absentee ballot to their township halls. Olson and all the other township clerks will be in their offices before the elections with the hours and dates published in various media.
At Irving’s Township hall, 3425 Wing Road, Olson’s hours are Mondays and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon, or anytime during the Saturday before the election or up to the 8 p.m. close on Election Day. If the halls have a secure drop-off box, as Irving does, that can be used anytime.
Even before new safe guards, elections in Michigan were very secure with the state’s election laws, Olson said.
All of the election records are under lock and seal. There is public testing of the voting equipment and township clerks attend classes on current election requirements by Barry County Clerk Pam Palmer, she said.
The poll book, with the names of all qualified voters in the township, now has a bar code for computer reading. It is downloaded to an external hard drive to the Election Day computer and “can’t be hacked,” Olson said.
After certification by the local board of canvassers, the election results are sent the county clerk, and then each county’s results are certified by the state, she added.
“We are also subject to random audits to make sure we are following legal procedures to do with the elections, public testing of the equipment, securing election workers, documents, minutes of the election commission’s meetings, all to protect the security and integrity of the elections. It’s pretty intense,” Olson said.
With the expected surge of absentee ballots in future elections, a new panel of tabulators, the Absent Ballot Board, will record all absentee ballots, with its debut Aug. 4. The board members will be sequestered in a basement office for the day.
Olson will deliver absentee ballots to the tabulators who will not be allowed to leave until after the polls close and votes cast at the hall are tabulated. Any qualified person who enters the room also may not leave until then. The precaution is to assure no contact with the public or any reporting of trends they may see while processing the ballots.
Irving Township has 2,729 registered voters and 565 absentee ballots for the primary election turned in as of July 27.
Two things helpful to voters: If someone is driven to the hall but can’t physically handle the normal voting process, Olson will send one person from both political parties to the person’s car in the parking lot with an application to vote, wait for it to be filled out, process it, bring the ballot to the voter’s car, wait for them to vote, then bring it to be tabulated. “That’s not new. It’s always been that way,” she said.
Also, when people make a mistake on their ballot, they can come in and have Olson spoil that ballot and issue a new one.
Olson is not overly concerned about voter fraud, “Especially in our county. I trust our voters and elections workers. We’re small and we have a tendency to know our voters,” she said.
Now, when a person renews their Michigan driver’s license they are automatically registered to vote unless they opt out. They can also register and vote up to and including Election Day.
For Barry County’s Aug. 4 primary election ballot, see related story here.