Brown resides in West Bloomfield Township and has an undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and a law degree from the Detroit College of Law. She served two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives and has been the county clerk since 2013. Brown has been involved in a number of professional and community groups.
The Republican Party on a national basis has latched onto alleged “voter fraud” as a campaign issue, often times as a guise for voter suppression that has been documented in a number of states in the South and Western portions of the country. Has there been voter fraud in Oakland County, and, if so, how widespread? How would you counteract voter fraud if it exists on any measurable basis?
The checks and balances that are in place in Michigan election law make it difficult to commit voter fraud and get away with it, which is probably why it happens so rarely. On the very rare occasion that I found voter fraud in Oakland County, I reported it to the proper authority. It is more often election fraud, like former Congressman McCotter’s petitions (which is still uncommon), rather than voter fraud. At the county level, after each election, every precinct is canvassed, which entails a long scrutinizing checklist, including verifying that the number of voters that voted matches the number of ballots cast and were tabulated. During a canvass is when I discovered a case of voter fraud.
NO-REASON ABSENTEE VOTING
Voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved no-reason absentee voting. Did you support that? Have the provisions of the ballot issue been implemented or have there been instances where election officials have not followed the ballot proposal exactly, as recently outlined in a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Michigan?
Election officials are obligated to follow and uphold the law, not interpret it. I can’t speak for other election officials but I have implemented the parts that fall under my purview. I supported 18-3 and was happy to see it pass with such strong support. Voting is a citizen’s right and there shouldn’t be so many obstacles to exercise that right.
CHANGES TO ABSENTEE VOTING
What legislative changes do you think are needed to the current absentee voting system to allow for improved administration of elections by clerks?
I support allowing ballot preparation to begin before Election Day (opening the outer envelopes), however, the proposed legislation limits which communities would have this ability based on size. I believe every community should have the same tools to do the same job. I supported HB 5141, which was signed into law in June. This gave locals clerks the option to contract with one another. For the August primary, I signed contracts with 16 municipalities to tabulate their absentee ballots. We tabulated over 50,000 ballots and were done late afternoon. It was a very successful collaboration.
BALLOT SHORTAGE IN 2018
In the primary election of 2018, a number of local communities ran short of ballots and local clerks took the position then that the county was responsible for the problem and had rejected requests from some local clerks for increased ballots prior to the election. What changes have been instituted to prevent this from occurring again?
I conducted an internal investigation and found that no clerk was denied a request. However, the stress felt on that election day was horrible. To prevent this from occurring again, I have encouraged local clerks to contact me directly if they are having a problem with my staff. Also, because my office didn’t have the resources, I asked the board of commissioners for more money in my budget to allow 100 percent of ballots to be ordered for future elections and expand voter education to help reduce the number of spoiled ballots. I am grateful that they approved the request.
PANDEMIC IMPACT ON OFFICE
If there was any lesson learned during the pandemic it was that some of the in-person contact that has been part of our past routines can now be replaced by virtual or online interactions. Is the county clerk's office up to date in terms employing digital/online applications to fulfill office duties? Please explain.
We have expanded to allow notary applicants to have appointments via Zoom and pushed the state court administrative office to allow all court case types to be e-filed in Oakland County. Many of our services were already online, like ordering vital and property records, genealogy searches, property record searches, and CPL renewals, and many can be done by mail. The law still requires that new CPL applicants have to come in to the office. I also recently opened a satellite office to make it more convenient for those who need to come in.
Are there other improvements that you recommend for the clerk's office?
An electronic filing program for campaign finance reports is on my list for future improvements. There will be an updated program in the Register of Deeds office that we have been working on. Also, to continue collaborating with our local clerks to insure our elections are accurate, secure, fair, and efficient.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
Why should voters support you rather than your opponent in this race? Please be specific.
I ask for your vote to continue an accessible, efficient, and fiscally responsible office. I have lead my team of 100 dedicated staff members and worked within my multi-million dollar budget. I saved taxpayers millions of dollars while bringing more services and programs. I pushed for eliminating the fee for veterans cards, lowering the birth record fee for seniors, my fee reduction/waiver program for individuals facing extreme hardship, Property Records Notification (PRN), an award winning, first of its kind free alert system to empower homeowners against property fraud, held voter registration drives and local office visits around the county. Now more than ever, it is vital to have a clerk/register with knowledge and experience in every division of this office.
Barton resides in Springfield Township and holds an undergraduate degree from Great Lakes University and a masters from Great Lakes University. She had been a deputy clerk in Bloomfield Township and is currently the city clerk for Rochester Hills. Barton has been involved in both professional and community groups.
I have been an election administrator in Oakland County for over 15 years and I am unaware of widespread voter fraud in our county. It is important to counter misinformation with fact. The fact is that no system is 100 percent foolproof; fraud could be committed at the precinct as well as through absentee voting. We must recognize and value the “gatekeepers” of the process: voter identification or signed affidavits, signature checks, receiving boards, canvasses, audits, and imprisonment and fines. As with any crime, a report would be filed, the police would investigate, and the prosecutor would prosecute if they had enough supporting evidence. Counteracting fraud could be a different approach for varied scenarios. My approach would be to isolate the incidents and determine what led to the fraud and how the fraud was carried out. The solution could be a combination of enforcement and education.
NO-REASON ABSENTEE VOTING
I do support no-reason absentee voting. No-reason absentee voting was introduced in 2015 by then Rep. Lisa Lyons and then Secretary Johnson. With the passage of Prop 18-3, it has been implemented under Secretary Benson. In response to not counting ballots postmarked on Election Day but received after Election Day, The Election Officials’ Manual, Michigan Bureau of Elections Chapter 6, November 2019, states, “An absentee ballot must be transmitted to the applicant by mail if there is an adequate amount of time for the voter to receive the ballot by mail, vote the ballot and return the ballot prior to 8:00 p.m. on the date of the election.” Any contradictions in election laws or new interpretations of laws must be cured through legislative action or a court ruling. In response to whether clerks are meeting the 40-day deadline to have ballots issued/ready to be issued, you must recognize that the 60-day certification deadline becomes a challenge for proofing, printing, delivering, testing, and issuing AV ballots. In March, there were jurisdictions throughout the state that received their ballots much later than others. The timeline must be adjusted on the front end in order to allow time for the clerks to receive their ballots in adequate time to meet the 40-day deadline.
CHANGES TO ABSENTEE VOTING
Voters approved no-reason absentee voting and a number of other changes in 2018 but with the challenges of the pandemic and changes taking place in the U.S. post office, there is serious question of whether voting by mail this November will mean some voters will be essentially disenfranchised if their mailed ballots do not arrive on time. There is also the question of whether local election clerks will be able to handle the increased volume of mail ballots expected to be cast in the general election. Legislation has been introduced to allow for ballot preparation for processing on election day to take place a day or days ahead of time. There has also been discussion of whether ballots postmarked on or before election day should be allowed to be counted in the returns even though they arrive after the election. We need to process ballots prior to election day. I have testified before the Senate Elections Committee and had conversations/meetings with elected representatives/senators. Processing absentee ballots days before the election is not new to our country; it is new to Michigan. This is an efficiency issue for clerks and a safety concern for our senior workers who will be working grueling hours. In August of 2020, Rochester Hills processed over 16,000 absentee ballots. We tripled the number of workers on our absentee teams, started processing at 7 a.m., used four high speed tabulators, and we reported our results at 11 p.m. We estimate we will issue nearly 30,000 absentee ballots for November. Ballots returned by mail are vulnerable to not being received by the deadline. The system is not perfect and warrants further discussions about the impact and the implementation of changes. As a member of the EAC Board of Advisors we will be promoting a hashtag of #mailitbackmonday for Monday, October 19th. We are asking election officials and advocacy groups to join us in the promotion. I am supportive of ballot drop boxes located in secure and monitored locations to help limit the need to mail a ballot.
BALLOT SHORTAGE IN 2018
As the Rochester Hills Clerk, I contacted the county weeks before election day with concerns that the number of ballots they were ordering were not enough. Many clerks were requesting more ballots, some asking to order more directly from the vendor and pay for them. We were told ‘no.’ We were told that they would look at the number of absentee ballots issued by the local unit and compare it to the number of ballots they had ordered and then determine whether more ballots would be ordered or not. The following lessons should have been learned: Forecasting turnout cannot strictly be based on formulas. You must consider the political climate, recognize the rate of absentee ballots being requested, and listen to the people who are doing the job. Respect must be shown to the local clerks and their expertise must be recognized. Former clerk of Milford and former member of the board of canvassers Elaine Skarritt, who has gone on to her reward, shared this wisdom with us clerks, “Never, I mean never, skimp on elections.” The budget should always include the ability to order 100 percent of the ballots needed to cover the number of registered voters in the county.
PANDEMIC IMPACT ON OFFICE
I am always looking for ways to work smarter not harder, as well as opportunities to provide better customer options. I value each person’s time and resources. I have been recognized nationally for innovation. I specifically received an Outstanding Innovations in Elections award from the Election Assistance Commission for an Election Day Precinct Support Portal. Other large cities in Michigan have adopted the portal successfully. Additionally, I just created an informational video about the 2020 absent voter process. This video has been shared by nearly 100 clerks across the state. One thing I would implement immediately is the use of several social media platforms to relay information. This is currently only being done on a very limited basis. I would create a Clerk’s Office Innovation Committee that would meet once a month and brainstorm ideas about how we can provide better service, utilize online tools, and save money by streamlining processes.
I urge you to visit the Ottawa County Elections Twitter page to see the frequent quality communication and information that is being provided to their residents. In my 15 years of election administration I have never seen so much misinformation surrounding our elections as we are seeing now. As election officials, we should be doing everything that we can to educate voters and give them access to a source of information that they can trust. This office could be providing so much more. I campaigned for this position four years ago and one of my platform issues was that we needed a satellite office in the south end of the county. While the office has just been recently opened, I would point out that it took the current county clerk four years since I suggested this to implement it. We need a county clerk that recognizes the needs of the county, provides solutions to problems, and leads with a vision. The local clerks of this county need a partner. They unanimously elected me to be the 2020 Oakland County Clerks Association President to lead them. They trust me.
WHY VOTE FOR YOU
I have a healthy record of collaborating with clerks, election officials, and advocacy groups from across our county, state and nation. I am respected for my ability to reach across the aisle in order to get work done. In the last year, I have been a speaker at GOP events, for the DNC, as well as with the ACLU and Indivisible. There is no question that in August of 2018 the incumbent county clerk not only let the clerks of this county down, she let the voters of our county down. Voters and clerks in Oakland County deserve and should demand a partner and advocate in the county clerk’s office. We need a county clerk that is less concerned about partisan politics and more concerned about people and processes. We need a leader. We need a leader that has a vision for our county and not just for her career. I am the city clerk for the City of Rochester Hills and have served as an election administrator for over 15 years. I have an MA in Management and Leadership and a BA in Business Administration. I am certified by the IIMC as a Master Municipal Clerk and a Michigan Professional Municipal Clerk II by the MAMC. I serve on the Election Security Commission, appointed by SOS Benson. I also serve on the Election Assistance Commission Board of Advisors, appointed by the US Conference of Mayors. I have received a Clearie Award for Election Innovation. Under my leadership, Rochester Hills was the first city in Michigan to conduct a Risk Limiting Audit pilot. I have been honored by Leadership Oakland as a Leader of Leaders in Public Service and by the MAMC as the City Clerk of the Year. I am the President of the Oakland County Clerks Association.