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Clerks say Michigan leaders need to "step up" for 2022 elections

absentee ballot and envelope
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

Michigan’s local and county clerks need additional state resources to ensure this year’s elections run smoothly, according to an open letter associations representing both groups sent to state leaders this week.

“Election officials across our state are calling on state government leaders to step up to their responsibility of providing resources and policies to ensure a smooth 2022 election cycle,” leaders of the Michigan Association of County Clerks and Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks wrote. “As we face another major election year with insufficient funding, continued high volume of absentee voting, and increased scrutiny due to the 2020 cycle, we need our leadership to focus on problem-solving rather than political wins and losses.

In the 2020 election, "An already overextended and under-funded system was put to the test and strained to the measure of its capacity," the letter continued. "Nearly everyone can agree that changes are necessary. Some of the needed changes are a result of the world we live in post 2020, and other changes have been neglected for far too long.”

One of the clerks’ key concerns is a need for more time and resources to process mail-in ballots. Requests for such ballots have surged since Michigan’s 2018 Proposal 3 went into effect, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ottawa County clerk Justin Roebuck.

“Our election infrastructure was set up on a 70/30 model, with 70% of our voters participating in a precinct and 30% voting by mail,” Roebuck said. “That has drastically shifted, and I don't think that's going to go away.”

Roebuck said that clerks need more time to pre-process absentee ballots and have them ready for tabulation on Election Day. They also need more money to pay for things like postage and drop box security, and to pay election workers.

Other requests clerks made in the letter include offering early voting options for Michigan voters, requiring additional training and “reasonable access” for election challengers, making post-election audits public, and moving the state’s primary from August to June to “allow more time to program and proof ballots for the general election.”

Roebuck said the end goal is to ensure election integrity and boost public confidence in the election process, especially after it was widely questioned by supporters of former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election.

“I think at the end of the day, if the process is not run efficiently and smoothly and with the appropriate measures of integrity and security and access, voters are once again not going to trust the outcome or the end of the process,” he said. “Ultimately, I think if some of these things aren't enacted, we're going to see a situation where public trust is undermined once again.”

But Roebuck admitted that persuading lawmakers to make even the most practical changes has become challenging, because "any time when you talk about election legislation in general, there tends to be an emphasis on the politics of it. Who benefits from this? Is it one party over another? But I think from the perspective of election administrators, we have to look at the benefit to our system and to our voters.”

Roebuck said that more than 100 pieces of election-related legislation have been introduced in Michigan since the 2020 election. None have become law.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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