HARRISON – In her Dec. 14 report, Lori Mott, county clerk/register of deeds, began by telling the Clare County Board of Commissioners that the report would be her longest in a long time. She started with the statewide election proposal recount which touched on several counties, and in Clare County included only one of the two precincts in Hayes Township.
“As far as the Bureau of Elections can tell, there’s no reason for any of the precincts that were picked,” she said. “And when asked about it, they just said they ‘had a secret sauce.’”
Mott said that recount in Hayes, which was only for Proposal 22-3, ended with two less “yes” votes and three additional “no” votes. She went on to explain that such changes can be due to the way the machine reads the vote, i.e., when someone makes an “X” in the oval rather than filling it in.
“And sometimes voters will do it quickly, and they only get a little piece of the oval,” she said. “And the machine won’t read it. That’s one way there would be an additional vote.”
Mott said that, at that time, the recount statewide was still in progress, but that the outcome for Hayes Township did not change.
“The Bureau of Elections doesn’t expect a change in the final vote,” Mott said.
She went on to describe the election procedural changes that will be necessitated by the passage of Proposal 22-2, and stated with the previous misperception that changes would not affect Clare County, as it has no townships with populations over 10,000. Mott said that was incorrect, that it affects everyone statewide, and then went on to describe some specifics and how she plans to move forward.
“The Bureau of Elections didn’t have any recommendations for us at our conference,” she said, explaining that at the time the election had just been completed, and the recount announced. “They haven’t even had a chance to look at Proposal 22-2 to give their recommendations. That will be coming after the first of the year.”
Mott clarified that the early voting portion of the proposal affects only federal and statewide elections, not local elections such as those held for school bonding proposals. She added that the nine-day early voting could be offered if the local units chose to do so.
“They also said the cost of early voting is going to fall on the county and local jurisdictions,” Mott said. “The state is not getting any funding for the nine days of early voting. So, not only is it nine days of early voting, but it’s 10 days of voting.”
Commissioner Rick Fancon asked if there was an estimated cost, and Mott said that she is putting together a committee to discuss options [ahead of the Bureau of Elections giving its recommendations], because there is a desire to know what is best for this county.
“Sometimes these are passed based on what’s best for big cities,” she said. “And what’s best for big cities is not always what’s best for our small communities.”
One possibility is consolidating a minimum of six precincts, but Mott expressed concern for the voter confusion that could cause due to possibly voting in different locals for various issue, i.e., school districts not common to all precincts.
The statistically daunting concern that comes with nine days of early voting is the requirement of having the polls open at least eight hours each day. Adding the pre-setup, teardown and securing of ballots, that reaches 10- to 12-hour days, all of which require paying additional people.
Mott also touched on the small change to overseas absentee voting, which requires not closing voting until six days after the election to accommodate ballots postmarked as late as 8 p.m. on election day.
She explained that clerks can already email ballots to absent voters 45 days prior to the election, which allows ample time to fill in and mail back the ballot. So, the Board of Canvassers can do its work, but the vote cannot be certified until after those additional six days.
Mott also addressed the photo ID requirement, saying nothing has changed because of that component.
“You had the right to sign an affidavit if you didn’t have your voter ID prior to this – you still have that,” she said. “You don’t have to show ID to vote; you can sign the affidavit just like before the proposal passed.”
Mott said the most concerning part of the proposal, aside from the economic issues, is that once someone applies for an absentee ballot, they can be put on a permanent absent voter list. That exists currently, however, rather than requiring the voter to request an absentee ballot prior to each election, now the ballot will continue to be sent automatically.
“We’re going to mail you ballots for each election, whether you want one or not,” she said. “If you don’t vote for six consecutive years, we’ll stop doing that.”
Fancon asked how that function will be audited, citing the example of the voter who is signed up to automatically receive a ballot then moves out of state.
“The only way we’ll know you moved out of state is if you cancel your driver’s license or the Secretary of State cancels you,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge issue in Clare County, because we’re small. And our clerks do take your ballot envelope, look at your signature and look at the signature we have on file for you and make sure that signature matches.”
Mott then voiced concern that in a county with more than a million voters, there won’t be adequate staff numbers to compare signatures.
Next on the list was prepaid postage for the AV ballots, and Mott’s anticipation that the funding will ultimately go to the taxpayer: a cost which, based on the 2020 election, would amount to $11.4 million for each election just for postage. She said that amount is estimated to increase by $4.3 million for the next presidential election. Mott noted that in 2024, that will mean three elections: the Presidential Primary, August Primary, and General Election.
Ballot drop boxes will now be required at each voting precinct, and voters will now be able to place their AV ballot applications in the drop boxes as well.
Moving on to donations and contributions, Mott said counties, cities and townships may now accept and use charitable donations and contributions to conduct and administer elections.
“So that’s an option, if you want to get out there and see if someone wants to fund our elections,” she said.
In summary, Mott said that elections will cost the county more money, and require more coordinating, planning and executing from her office. She told commissioners to be aware of the possibility she could approach them seeking to hire an additional employee.
“There’s a lot to think about, and a lot that’s going to have to go into this,” she said.
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