What Caused the Oakland County Ballot Shortage, What to Expect in November

What Caused the Oakland County Ballot Shortage, What to Expect in November

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 10, 2018)

Pontiac, MI- Several communities in Oakland County fell short of ballots during Tuesday’s Primary Election, leaving many to wonder what happened and what could be done to avoid this in the future.

Clerks at the municipal level have put the blame on Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown and Director of Elections Joe Rozell, with the Oakland County Clerks Association sending a press release stating “We could tell weeks before the election that our ballot orders would not be sufficient, however, we were not allowed to increase ballot quantities due to the fact that county clerks control ballot ordering for elections such as the August Primary. When the county did increase ballot quantities the week before the election, it was by a very small percentage and still not sufficient for most of our communities.”  The statement was signed by 27 clerks.

Brown and Rozell have been speaking to the media to explain what happened, and how it will be prevented in the future.  “We had the highest Congressional turnout in Michigan history,”  Rozell said.  “We shattered Oakland County percentages.  The highest we had before was 27%. This year it was 34%.”

In many precincts the abundance of voters was predicted based on increases in Absentee ballots.  According to Rozell, municipalities that asked for extra ballots received them, and even some precincts that did not request them were given more after Rozell looked at the data of absentee ballots requested.  But even then, it was not enough in about 3% of the County’s precincts where ballots ran out.

“We had one precinct that had 17% turnout before, that had 55% turnout now,” he said.  “Those are difficult things to plan for.”

State law requires that clerks order enough ballots to accommodate the number of people who voted in the most recent similar election, plus 25% for primaries.  For the general election in November, they are required to order enough ballots to accommodate 100% voter turnout in every precinct.

Rozell explained that in anticipation of high voter turnouts, the office initially looked at the record turnout and used that as their basis for ordering, instead of just the most recent.  They also made a secondary order on July 31 for many of the communities.

“97% of the precincts had no issue,” he said.  “About two dozen were anomalies.”

“None of us wanted that to happen,” Brown said.  “No clerk wants to disenfranchise a voter.  We all take our jobs very seriously.”

She added that other factors could have contributed to the shortages, including a higher than normal number of spoiled ballots (where voters are given a fresh ballot after making a mistake), and instances where precincts did not have the right kind of printer paper on hand to make copies if needed.  These problems were small compared to just the sheer numbers who came to vote, however it helps to understand all areas where improvements could be made.

The statement sent by the local Clerks or Deputy Clerks of Troy, Rochester Hills, Novi, Bloomfield Twp, Southfield, Madison Heights, Clawson, Independence Township, Royal Oak, Farmington Hills, Southfield Twp, Oak Park, Lyon Twp, Rochester, Oxford, Bloomfield Hills, Wixom, Pontiac, West Bloomfield Twp, Springfield Twp, Commerce Twp and Oxford Twp blamed Brown for the shortages, and added “The single best way we could have prepared for a large turnout would have been by ordering larger quantities of ballots as we requested.”

“The County Clerk’s statement that local clerks could have solved the ballot shortages by sending larger paper to the precincts is not accurate. The machines attached to the printers have an important and specific purpose: to allow voters who request or require assistance to vote with necessary accommodations. These machines are not intended for mass production and the process of voting on the system takes 5 to 8 minutes per ballot. That proposed solution would have only slightly lessened the impact. The only effective solution would have been a sufficient number of ballots.

“Additionally, the County Clerk’s assertion that local clerks were withholding ballots from precincts while crowds of voters demanded to vote is both disheartening and untrue. We want to assure all our voters that we did everything within our authority to make ballots available to all the precincts in our jurisdictions.

“Whether the solution is a change in law or a financial agreement with the county, we will make sure that we have the final say on ballot quantities for future elections. Please know that we will not rest until we know that the shortages that occurred on August 7th will not happen again,” the statement said.

When asked what she is doing to repair relationships with the Clerks, Brown said she has contacted one of the clerks on the list to “talk it all out and move forward,” and that more conversations will come.  Brown is also investigating the claim that clerks were denied ballots.

“Everybody that requested extra ballots got them, and even some that didn’t request them,” Rozell said.

Brown wanted to reassure voters that in November they are required to order enough ballots for ever registered voter and that in terms of primaries “We are working together to make sure this never happens again,” she said.  “This has never happened before, and we’re all heartbroken about it.”

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