WEST OLIVE — As in-person voting was largely reduced in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Ottawa County elections staff said the Tuesday, May 5, election was largely a success.
“From all around, yesterday went very well,” said Steve Daitch, county elections coordinator. “There were, in different parts of the county people who came in who hadn’t voted by mail, who were able to vote in person.”
In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order directing jurisdictions to make absentee voting available for all voters. Under the order, jurisdictions had to keep at least one precinct open for in-person voters.
It’s Election Day in Michigan ... but where are the voters?? Here in Ottawa County - where voter turnout (24%) is twice the average (12%) for a local election - they voted from home. Grateful to all of the clerks and local election workers dedicated to ensuring their votes count. pic.twitter.com/cijcvbOHVw— Jocelyn Benson (@JocelynBenson) May 5, 2020
In Ottawa County, Grand Haven Public Schools, Hudsonville Public Schools and Kenowa Hills Public Schools had elections on May 5, after six other districts deferred their ballot issues to the August election.
“That system seemed to work very well,” Daitch said. “That was a very small fraction of the overall total voters, making it safer for our election workers, voters and clerks. It kept everybody safe while giving people an ability to vote. I’m very happy with that.”
Daitch said using the same method for the August primary or November general election would require action from either the state Legislature, or another executive order.
“That being said, I think this method of voting worked well,” he said. “I can’t say we would have been able to administer it as effectively and as safely if we had to open traditional precincts.
“We didn’t have a county-wide election, but among the subset of our population, we had higher turnout in this election than we do in a typical August primary, so that was definitely manageable for those communities.”
He added that local clerks would need time to prepare for more mail-focused elections.
“I would expect in August and November, that we would see exceptionally high voting by mail, whether we open the precincts or not,” he said. “And that creates challenges for our local clerks.”
Daitch also said elections workers turned out in droves. Despite many being over 60 and considered at-risk for COVID-19, a large group of workers arrived, processing ballots and ensuring the day went smoothly.
But if voting-by-mail is expanded into August and November, the county will depend on its elections staff once again.
“As we go into August and November, if we’re opening traditional precincts, that will increase the need for workers,” Daitch said. “What I am hopeful for is that our citizens, election workers and residents will value voting and if they’re able to safely, they’ll step up and help their community.”
— Contact reporter Arpan Lobo at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @arpanlobo.