Lack of ballots frustrate Oakland Co. voters
Numerous reports from Oakland County had voters waiting in line or leaving the polls because of a lack of ballots in part due to high turnout Tuesday, including Ferndale, Oak Park, Berkley and Farmington Hills.
The Michigan Secretary of State publicly urged voters via Twitter who were in line by 8 p.m. not to leave their polling place. Voters cannot be turned away, officials said.
"Clerks can print and deliver additional ballots to precincts. If needed, workers can photocopy a blank ballot and have procedures to use those copies for voters. The Bureau of Elections sent out a reminder to county clerks this evening about procedures for addressing ballot shortages," Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said in an email.
Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said late Tuesday that she wasn't sure if it was high turnout, a large number of spoiled ballots or a combination that caused the problem. If voters selected candidates in both political parties, that would invalidate their ballot and they could have asked for a redo.
"I don't want anyone to ever feel disenfranchised," Brown said. "It is frustrating to me that people felt that way."
She said her office printed off extra ballots and delivered them to municipalities who needed them Tuesday. But she said all precincts in the county should have had the ability to print off extra ballots on site.
Brown said her director of elections Joe Rozell works with local officials ahead of the election to estimate how many ballots they need.
Rozell could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday night before the polls closed.
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.
Woodhams said they had nothing comparable to Oakland County's ballot problems in the rest of the state.
Berkley City Manager Matthew Baumgarten said in a Facebook post that turnout in his city was in the high 50 percent range and that officials had requested the maximum number of ballots from the county clerk.
"Incredible turnout today in Berkley and across Oakland County!! We ordered the maximum ballots were allowed to order and we still had to go to our contingency plan!!," he wrote.
David Blackburn, a Berkley resident, was about the 550th voter at Berkley City Hall around 6:15 p.m. when the city ran out of ballots for the second time that day.
"I have never been that high (a number)," Blackburn said. "(The election workers) were scrambling around and trying to figure out what to do. They had apparently run out earlier in the day."
Blackburn was able to vote on a ballot that workers printed off.
Farmington Hills resident Jim Meredith said he went to vote at Wood Creek Elementary School around 6 p.m. to discover officials had run out of ballots.
"There was a long line of people who had been in line and were giving up," he said via email. "Many others, arriving and being told of the situation, were leaving without voting."
Meredith said he returned to the polling place at 7:15 p.m. and although more ballots had been delivered, they had run out again.
"One of the officials there said, 'this is happening all over Oakland County.'"
Some voters at Albert Einstein Elementary School in Oak Park had to wait more than an hour after ballots ran out.
One elections employee, who would not provide their name, said precincts running short were resorting to photocopying blank ballots for voters to use “and planned to hand count them later.”
It could not be determined how many, if any, voters had actually been turned away from a precinct because there were no ballots to fill out.
William Mullan, a spokesman for Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, said he had heard that shortages were reported at voting precincts in Berkley, Farmington Hills, Oak Park, Pontiac, Royal Oak, and Southfield.
“Unfortunately, the county clerk never informed the county executive that there was an issue with ballot shortages in some precincts. Had he known, Mr. Patterson would have pushed for a solution that ensures all voters who wanted to vote had the opportunity to vote.”
Ferndale city officials acknowledged on its Facebook account that two precincts had run out of ballots.
"Oakland County has struggled to keep up with the higher-than-anticipated turnout. Our staff is doing everything in our power to expedite the voting process and get more ballots," according to the Ferndale city post.
The ACLU of Michigan also urged people to stay at the polls until they are able to vote: "Polls close at 8 p.m. If you are standing in line at 8 p.m., you will be permitted to vote," the group tweeted.
Adding complications: a few election polling places across Metro Detroit lost power at the start of Tuesday's primary after a thunderstorm Monday.
Read more: Latest Metro Detroit election results