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Wayne, Oakland voters upset with late absentee ballots

George Hunter, and Mike Martindale
DetroitNews

Local election officials in Wayne and Oakland counties are being inundated with questions from edgy voters who have not yet received requested absentee ballots.

Longtime clerks say they’ve never seen so many problems with sending out or getting back absentee ballots to voters. In Northville, Canton and White Lake, clerks say they mailed out the ballots only to find out many didn’t get to their destination.

“People are much more frantic about this election,” Canton Township Clerk Terry Bennett said. “And so they’re asking us, ‘How come I didn’t get my ballot?’ And they’re looking to place blame. They’re saying, ‘I did what I’m supposed to do.’ But, so did we.”

City and township clerks said that after numerous citizen complaints they looked into the problem and determined the delay likely was caused by the way the postal service was processing the ballots.

U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Elizabeth Najduch acknowledged in an email there was a problem and the issue contributing to it has been fixed, but she could not elaborate on the problem or how it was taken care of.

In a presidential election that has once again deeply divided the country and with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and others in the GOP warning of widespread election rigging and Wikileaks emails that allegedly show chicanery by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the delays are causing widespread concern, clerks say.

Nora Naughton was one of the Northville residents who called her clerk’s office to complain about not receiving an absentee ballot. She said she mailed a request for a ballot in mid-September. “I still haven’t received anything,” said Naughton, 25.

Naughton said she moved to Connecticut this spring when she got a new job, but didn’t want to change residency because she wasn’t sure how long she’d stay.

“All my friends in Michigan said they got their ballots back in early October,” she said. “I still haven’t gotten it, and I really need to get this taken care of so I can vote. This election is important to me.”

Najduch, the regional postal spokeswoman for Metro Detroit, Flint and Jackson, said the problem has been fixed, and that voters should receive their ballots before the deadline to request an absentee ballot expires at 5 p.m. Nov. 1.

“We apologize for any inconvenience our customers have experienced,” she said. “We would like to assure our customers that we are working closely with municipalities and doing everything possible to process and deliver these ballots in a timely manner.

“There have been isolated local incidents in the Metro Detroit area. We have identified some internal issues and remedied the situation,” she said. “In an effort to address these recently discovered issues, we implemented new internal measurements to ensure that all voter ballots are being processed swiftly for timely delivery to our customers.”

Northville Township Clerk Sue Hillebrand said the absentee ballot issue came up last week during a pre-election meeting of Wayne County clerks. She said her office mailed out 5,000 Sept. 30 and have heard from a number of people, especially those out of state, who have not received them. Absentee ballots are designated as first-class mail.

Hillebrand speculated the volume of ballots is contributing to the problem.

“There is just a lot of interest in this election and it has caused a lot of work for everyone,” she said. “We’ve issued about twice the number we usually issue. In 24 years, I’ve never seen this many requests for ballots. Maybe the high number of ballots the post office is processing is helping to cause the delay.”

“We have had more people coming in to the counter for a ballot because a member of their family received one but they didn’t get their ballot. I think we received a couple dozen phone calls (Tuesday) from people wanting to know when they can expect to get their ballot.”

A few Oakland County communities have also reported issues.

White Lake Township Clerk Terry Lilley said his office is dealing with major absentee ballot problems.

“I don’t know why, but we have had nothing but trouble,” said Lilley, longtime clerk and former township supervisor.

Lilley said that on Oct. 3 the township dropped off 12 cases of absentee ballots for about 3,000 voters at the Waterford Township post office to be mailed out.

“After a few days I started getting calls from people wondering where their ballot was,” Lilley said. “They were hot. Angry. They were accusing us of not doing our job.

“I called the post office and was told they were still there but would be delivered on Friday, Oct.7. I never got an explanation why they were just set aside for five days but sure doesn’t seem they were being treated as priority mail. These are very important mailings and people need to vote.”

Lilley said another issue is his office received completed absentee ballots clearly addressed to clerks’ office in four other communities: Bloomfield, Brandon and Waterford townships and Owosso.

“No one can explain that to me either,” said Lilley, who reported concerns to the county elections office.

Lilley said the township is not handling ballots any differently than it has in previous elections.

“We process about 250 ballots a day and are continuing to send out replacement ballots — an average of about five a day — to voters demanding them that we know we have already sent ballots,” he said. “My concern is they will eventually be getting their older ballot, fill it out and send it back but we won’t be able to use it because it has been canceled out.”

Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh said her office hasn’t received any complaints from voters who haven’t received absentee ballots, although

Bennett said her office mailed out more than 9,100 absentee ballots at the beginning of October. “We’re getting calls from residents, and people who are coming in saying they haven’t received their ballots yet,” she said. “They can sign an affidavit and we’ll issue a new one on the spot.

“There’s no pattern to who isn’t getting their ballots,” Bennett said. “It’s not just one precinct, or one date (when the ballots were sent out).”

Communities have different procedures for passing out new ballots. In Canton, voters may come in and sign an affidavit that they didn’t receive their first ballot, and a new one will be issued. Out-of-towners are faxed an affidavit.

In Northville, the clerk signs the affidavit on the voter’s behalf, Hillebrand said.

“If people haven’t received their absentee ballots within 10 days, they should contact their local clerk for another one,” she said.

Hillebrand stressed she is only canceling out ballots from those who have contacted the township, expressed concern and requested a new ballot. She noted some people may be unaware they should have received their absentee ballot by now.

There are also measures put in place to guard against fraud, Hillebrand said.

“Let’s say someone stole the ballot (which was originally sent out) and tries to use it to vote. They can’t because those ballots have already been voided, and they won’t be accepted.

“I can account for every single ballot that left this office, and tell you what happened to it. We have a couple dozen where the ballot was never delivered; it’s voided. We’re always on the lookout for fraud. If someone were to come in trying to use one of the voided ballots, we would ask that person for ID and want to know how they got possession of it.”

Hillebrand said clerks are reporting unprecedented interest in this year’s election.

“At last week’s Wayne County clerk’s meeting, all the clerks said their absentee requests are up more than they’ve ever had before,” she said. “So we’re all pretty busy. That’s good news. That’s what we’re here for. I’d love to see 100 percent voter turnout.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN