Opinion: Improve election efficiency without compromising integrity
The election reforms approved by Michigan voters in 2018 have a lot of great benefits that make it easier for citizens to vote. But they also pose a new set of challenges for local clerks, especially with the addition of automatic voter registration, same-day registration and no-reason absentee voting.
Most local clerks have already witnessed an increase in registered voters, and the number of people requesting absentee ballots is sure to increase under the new law. In addition, we expect a record turnout for the presidential election quickly approaching in 2020.
Some people, including our Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, seem to believe the only solution is to allow absentee ballots to be opened early — as much as 72 hours before the polls open on Election Day.
This is a dangerous concept that risks the integrity of our elections in favor of speedy results. It’s important to remember that Election Day is not a race. We must be methodical and deliberate in the processing of all the voters’ ballots. The goal must be running an election with the highest level of integrity; not satisfying the pollsters or politicians.
As a former township clerk, I understand first-hand the challenges facing our local clerks. Dealing with the anticipated increase in absentee voters is just one of the many challenges they face. Other issues include the availability of buildings to use as polling locations, fewer election workers and tightened local budgets. Our local clerks are hardworking people who are dedicated to serving the public well, but as their jobs become more challenging the public is likely to be impacted by inefficiencies.
To address these challenges, I initiated a workgroup comprised of local and county clerks, representatives from the Bureau of Elections and the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. The group had several recommendations that will help accommodate the increase in voters and allow clerks to properly administer elections, without compromising the integrity of our ballots. These recommendations are what inspired legislation I recently introduced in the House.
The first measure would allow a local city or township to expand the size of its election precincts to account for the drop-off in the number of people voting in person.
Current law limits election precincts to 2,999 registered voters during federal elections. Under House Bill 5032, precincts would be allowed to contain up to 5,000 registered voters.
The concept is simple: If more people are voting with an absentee ballot rather than going to a polling location, you won’t need as many poll workers or as much election equipment to accommodate people at the polls.
Cutting down on the number of precincts will allow some communities to free up more election workers, voting machines and other supplies to count absentee ballots on Election Day.
Another measure I introduced, House Bill 5123, would require any city or township with more than one precinct to establish an absent voter counting board. These panels, which are optional under current state law, are dedicated strictly to processing mail-in ballots on Election Day.
AV ballots can be processed in one of two ways — in an absent voter counting board or at the precinct. When they are processed in the precinct, election workers typically feed absentee ballots into the voting machines during lulls or after polls close. Larger communities will benefit from increased efficiency if these panels are utilized to focus on processing AV ballots all day long. I believe the use of absent voter counting boards also contributes to the integrity of the election process by ensuring secrecy.
State Rep. Ann Bollin represents southeast Livingston County in the Michigan House. She previously served for 16 years as Brighton Township clerk.