Local clerks call out Oakland County clerk for Tuesday ballot shortage
More than two dozen local clerks in Oakland County are calling for an agreement with the county or a change in law to prevent a repeat of Tuesday's primary election ballot shortage that caused some voters to wait in line for more than an hour after polls closed.
The local clerks in a joint statement said Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown ignored calls for additional ballots in the weeks leading up to the primary election.
“We could tell weeks before the election that our ballot orders would not be sufficient; however, we were not allowed to increase ballot quantities due to the fact that county clerks control ballot ordering for elections such as the August Primary,” the statement said.
Michigan set records Tuesday with nearly 2.2 million ballots cast or about 29.7 percent of registered voters, the highest turnout in a gubernatorial primary in at least 40 years. It also was a huge increase over the prior record of 1.72 million ballots in 2002.
The increase in turnout came with some hiccups at the polls. In Oakland County, several precincts, including ones in Ferndale, Oak Park, Berkley and Farmington Hills, ran out of ballots, prompting voters to wait in line or leave the precinct.
The Michigan Secretary of State's office publicly urged voters Tuesday to stay in line if they had arrived at their precinct before the polls closed at 8 p.m. Voters cannot be turned away due to ballot shortages, the state said.
The shortages also spurred the Oakland Board of Commissioners Wednesday to appoint four commissioners to a bipartisan panel to review the issues. People who experienced voting issues or have concerns about the shortage can share them through an online portal at www.oakgov.com/boc.
Brown said Thursday she is reviewing email requests for extra ballots from local clerks to ensure each one was responded to appropriately. She maintained "clerks were responded to, extra ballots were ordered."
The county's clerks "work tirelessly," Brown said, but added that she observed mistakes at some precincts Tuesday and is conducting an internal review of her own office to determine fault there.
"I’m working with our local clerks to come up with a solution so they feel more comfortable as to what our ballot quantity is," Brown said. She assured voters there would be enough ballots in November as the law requires the clerk's office to provide precincts a ballot for every registered voter during a November election.
Brown's office printed off extra ballots and delivered them to precincts Tuesday, in addition to some precincts undertaking the task of copying ballots on their own. She said she was unsure whether the shortage was due to high turnout or spoiled ballots.
After requests from local clerks, Brown increased the number of ballots a week before the elections “by a very small percentage,” the clerks said in their statement, but it was insufficient in most communities.
Regardless of the cause, local clerks believe it could have been prevented.
“The one thing that could have prevented this entire ordeal was not within our control: the number of ballots purchased for our municipalities,” they said in a statement signed by clerks in in Troy, Rochester Hills, Novi, Bloomfield Township, Southfield, Madison Heights, Clawson, Independence Township, Royal Oak, Farmington Hills, Southfield, Oak Park, Berkley, Lyon Township, Rochester, Oxford Township, Bloomfield Hills, Wixom, Farmington, Pontiac, West Bloomfield, Birmingham, Springfield Township and Commerce Township.
Comments Brown made to media blaming the issue on municipal clerks unprepared for the large turnout are “simply not true,” they said.
“Additionally, the county clerk’s assertion that local clerks were withholding ballots from precincts while crowds of voters demanded to vote is both disheartening and untrue,” the statement said. “We want to assure all our voters that we did everything within our authority to make ballots available to all the precincts in our jurisdictions."
Secretary of State Fred Woodhams said his office sent a notice to county clerks last week, warning them to expect high turnout after seeing heavy demand in absentee ballot requests. He said no other county had ballot problems similar to those in Oakland County.
"At this point, we are having conversations with the county clerk office and local clerks about what happened, as we do after any election," he said.
During a primary election, precincts must, at minimum, be provided 25 percent more ballots than the total number of votes cast in the most recent corresponding primary election. Woodhams said Oakland County has said it provided enough ballots to meet that threshold.
Local clerks in Oakland County would like the law changed to require the county clerk to provide for the "maximum agreed upon between the local clerk and the county," said Leanne Scott, deputy clerk for Rochester Hills and president of the Oakland County Clerks Association.
Absent a change in state law, some Oakland County clerks would like the opportunity to enter into financial agreements with the county in which the local clerks would pay the difference for extra ballots beyond the minimum required or agreed to by the county, Scott said.
"The main thing we want is we want the county to listen to us as local clerks," Scott said. "We know our voters. We know the climate in our local community. If we’re asking for more ballots its because we need them and the county needs to listen to us.”