Editorial: No excuse for polling place problems

The Detroit News
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Voting is one of our most fundamental rights, and widespread reports Tuesday of Michigan citizens getting blocked from doing so are alarming — and smack of indifference and incompetence. This should never happen. Government election officials must ensure that voters have the tools they need. 

The lack of preparation for this week’s primary elections is sure to diminish citizens’ confidence in the voting process.

Many reports from Oakland County detailed how multiple polling locations ran out of ballots — Berkley, Oak Park, Ferndale and Farmington Hills were among the affected areas.

That led to many frustrated voters leaving the polls or standing in long lines, unsure of what to do.

The Secretary of State’s office turned to social media to tell residents that if they were in line by 8 p.m., they should stay there, regardless of whether there was a shortage of ballots. State officials said that voters can’t be turned away.

But many voters weren’t checking their phones or Twitter while waiting in line, and who wants to spend hours simply trying vote?

Some clerks are pointing blame at one of the largest primary turnouts in recent history. But these officials should have been prepared for that possibility.

As The Detroit News reported, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown tried to deflect some of the responsibility, saying the large number of voters, as well as mismarked ballots and the need for re-dos, contributed to the shortage.

"I don't want anyone to ever feel disenfranchised," Brown said.

How else are they supposed to feel?

In an email to Brown, which included local media, Farmington Hills resident Jim Meredith describes his unpleasant experience:

“I was distressed to arrive at Wood Creek Elementary School (voting place for the 12th Precinct) shortly after 6 p.m. to discover that the officials there had run out of ballots. Run out of ballots!!! And the officials could not provide any information on when ballots would be received, if at all. There was a long line of people there who had been waiting for more than an hour for ballots to arrive, but there was also a significant number of people who had been in line and were giving up. Many others, arriving and being told of the situation, were leaving without voting.”

There’s no excuse for that.

Voters in other countries faced problems, too. Some polling locations experienced power outages following thunderstorms.

Several locations in Detroit and Dearborn were impacted by the outages, and while government officials can’t be blamed for the weather, they should have a workaround that still allows citizens to vote without excessive delays.

The Detroit Branch NAACP released a statement arguing the power outages left some unable to cast their ballots because machines weren’t functioning properly.

“This is unacceptable and must not create further apathy among the citizens in their effort to exercise their voting rights,” the NAACP said. “This situation further demonstrates the need not only for updated machinery and technology, but to maintain as an alternative updated and available paper ballots.”

In yet another glitch, Wayne County and the company that handles its vote counting blame software for a delay in releasing the results. By Wednesday morning, complete election information was still unavailable.

County officials claim this didn’t have anything to do with miscalculating ballots — a common occurrence in Wayne County, especially in the city of Detroit — but they should make sure they are better prepared for the fall election.

The lack of preparation for this week’s primary elections is sure to diminish citizens’ confidence in the voting process. Clearly, there’s a lot of work to do before November.

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