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Mich. election officials: Ocasio-Cortez's 'voter suppression' comment 'dangerous'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Michigan election officials say Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York got it wrong when she mentioned "voter suppression" after being asked about the state's primary results.

During a Thursday appearance on Fox News, host Bret Baier asked Ocasio-Cortez about the 10,000-person rally she had last week with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Ann Arbor. Baier said those students didn't "show up" to support Sanders, who lost to former Vice President Joe Biden by 16.5 percentage points in Michigan's March 10 primary.

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses the crowd before U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders came on stage on the campus of The University of Michigan, Sunday, March 8, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"I think one thing that isn’t being talked about is the rampant voter suppression in this country,” said Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist like Sanders. "Right there, in Ann Arbor, where we had that rally, those kids were waiting three hours in line to vote in Michigan."

Baier responded, "You're saying that you think voters didn't get to vote that wanted to vote in Michigan?" 

"Absolutely," she replied.

"Obviously, there’s also more that we need to do in terms of turning out youth voters," she continued. "We need to make sure that we’re inspiring young people to turn out. But when you do turn out, you should not be waiting, three, four, seven hours in order to vote."

The implication that voter suppression was at play in Michigan was "misinformed and dangerous," said Jake Rollow, spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat and Michigan's top election official.

The long lines were at clerks' offices, not polling stations, multiple election officials said. At the clerks' offices, some voters, especially in college areas, waited in line to register to vote on Election Day before casting their ballots, they said.

Clerks around Michigan had warned that same-day registration and voting on or near an election could cause problems. 

The presidential primary was Michigan's first major election under new voting policies approved in November 2018 that expanded voter access in the state, allowing people to register to vote on Election Day and cast absentee ballots without giving an excuse.

"This change significantly increased the Election Day workload for local election clerks," Rollow said of same-day voter registration. "Our office worked to provide them extra support, but long lines were unavoidable when, late in the day, thousands of same-day registrants simultaneously went to a handful of clerks’ offices."

Jacqueline Beaudry, the clerk for Ann Arbor, a Democratic-dominated city, said there were no three-hour waits at campus polling stations.

"That's simply not true and to state that is misleading," she added. "In fact, there were hardly any wait times anywhere in the city, except at city hall to register to vote."

The clerk's office had lines on Monday and Tuesday of students and other residents who were not yet registered to vote and wanted to participate in the primary, Beaudry said in an email.

"The line at City Hall was less than one hour most of the day, growing to 2-3 hours in the evening," she said. "Everyone in line at 8 p.m. was able to register and vote at City Hall and all voters were registered by 9:30 p.m.

"We understand long waits are not acceptable, whether at the polls or for voter registration, and we are making plans for improvements for November, including the opening of a satellite office to assist with voter registration, in addition to encouraging students to register in advance of Election Day, as many did."

The Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks named Beaudry the 2019 city clerk of the year.

The University of Michigan and the clerk's office made efforts to register students in advance of Election Day, Beaudry said. Based on the lessons of the primary, the Ann Arbor clerk said she should would "re-evaluate plans and resources for November."

cmauger@detroitnews.com