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  • By Lisa Brody

Committee advises on how to avoid ballot shortages

A bipartisan committee appointed by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners submitted a report to the full board on Thursday, September 27, regarding the shortage of ballots during the primary election in Oakland County on August 7, with recommendations to avoid a similar problem in the future if implemented.

According to the report, compiled by a four-member bipartisan Ad Hoc Committee on Oakland County Election Infrastructure comprised of commissioners Tom J. Berman (R-Keego Harbor), Nancy Quarles (D-Southfield), Marcia Gershenson (D-Bloomfield Township) and Adam Kochenderfer (R- Rochester Hills), they determined numerous reasons for ballot shortages, including the complexity and challenges of forecasting voter behavior in the 516 precincts in Oakland County, unprecedented voter turnout and shifting turnout geography due to the volatile political climate, the lack of an emergency response plan among election administrators, and human errors like ballot spoilage and miscommunication that exacerbated problems in an already stressed system.

Ultimately, the committee determined that approximately 140 precincts experienced ballot shortages and were resupplied, and approximately 75 precincts exhausted their supply of ballots and had to resort to emergency ballot procedures.

Oakland County had a 34 percent turnout for the primary election in August, a record for a primary election.

The report includes information and contributions from 48 local clerks, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown and Elections Director Joe Rozell, precinct workers and voters. Among the recommendations for future elections, the committee suggested to amend the county budget in order to authorize sufficient funding for the county clerk to provide a ballot for 100 percent of registered voters in a primary. Ballots are provided for 100 percent of registered voters in general elections.

The committee requested that the county clerk work with local clerks in developing a new procedure for allocating ballots, and to work collaboratively with local clerks to determine the appropriate ballot orders for each precinct.

The report requests that the Secretary of State provide county elections staff with access to absentee voter data in order to improve election planning capabilities and to encourage the Elections Division to create an absentee voter tracker program that could integrate absentee voter data and historical voter data for more accurate turnout forecasting.

The problem of ballot spoilage could be minimized, the report suggested, with a $25,000 allocation which the county clerk has requested in order to launch a voter education effort, as well as to urge the state legislation to return political party logos to the ballot design. The Elections Division should have a plan for Election Day emergencies by hosting a training session where they discuss a response plan for future ballot shortages.

The committee requested that the county clerk maintain timely, high-quality customer service from the voting equipment vendor in advance of, and during, elections. They also recommended exploring the possibility of having a presence close to the southern population centers in Oakland County, and supplying this operations center with an emergency ballot printer. They requested the Elections Division partner with local clerks to offer ongoing work training, including more advance preparedness training for precinct chairs, and that the board of commissioners consider creating a grant program to help local communities in recruiting new precinct election workers.

“After conducting an extensive review and analysis of the ballot shortages that occurred on Election Day, we are confident our recommendations, if implemented, would prevent a repeat of the serious problems many voters experienced at the polls on August 7,” Berman, one of the co-chairs, said.

“This election demonstrated that you cannot take people for granted when they are hungry for change,” said co-chair Quarles . “There is a tremendous level of excitement about the political process this year from young people, women, minorities and many others. This committee listened, learned and is recommending steps are taken to protect the rights of all voters to cast a ballot.”

“Every resident has the right to expect well-run elections free from ballot shortages. Our recommendations are aimed at protecting that right and ensuring we never again have ballot shortages in Oakland County," Kochenderfer said.

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