Ballots bad; new ones out
Mary Ann Arvo doesn’t mind filling out another set of absentee ballots, even though getting her husband’s signature will require a little extra work. She learned this week that due to a mistake in the county clerk’s office, a slew of incorrect absentee ballots have already been sent to voters in Leelanau County.
“I’ll be happy to do it again,” said the Bingham Township resident, who always votes early with her husband, Gary, who has Parkinston’s Disease. “In life’s difficulties and crises, this is only a minor blimp.”
Ballots ordered by Leelanau County and provided last month to township clerks for distribution did not include a .5 mill property tax renewal request sought by the Leelanau County Road Commission. Ballots started going out in late June in anticipation of the Primary Election set for Aug. 7.
County clerk Michelle Crocker said the mistake came to her attention by a resident who “read the Enterprise, and there was something in there about the Road Commission.”
Letters along with new — and corrected — absentee ballots were expected to start going into the mail yesterday to residents who had already received ballots. Many of them, including the Arvos, had completed voting and mailed their ballots into township clerks.
They’ll be provided the option of filling out a correct ballot, or allowing their original ballot to stand without participation in the Road Commission election, Crocker said. Old ballots already filed that are not updated will be transferred to correct ballots by election workers without a mark in place for the Road Commission request.
Crocker notified the Enterprise after learning about the mistake, and started working with township clerks to rectify the problem.
“I hate the idea of inconveniencing any absentee voters,” said Crocker. “At least it’s solvable, and I appreciate that somebody read the Enterprise and reported it. This is huge, because we want to get it right.”
Correcting the problem will come with a pricetag. Crocker said the cost for the first round of ballots came to $6,000 to $7,000. She was negotiating with an out-of-area printer for a lower price to supply the revised ballots.
The cost won’t stop there. Township clerks are in the process of mailing new ballots along with return envelopes at a cost of more than $1 per voter. Clerk Connie Preston of Elmwood Township said the price for postage comes to 65 cents per mailing, and the two envelopes required — one for returning the ballot — cost about 15 cents apiece. Crocker was providing a letter to go out with ballots accepting blame for the problem and explaining the process.
And then there’s addressing and preparing the mailings.
“I can’t charge for my time, but I do have a deputy who is an hourly person,” said Preston. “I’ll probably keep track of her time, and propose that to Michelle.” The county plans to reimburse townships for their costs, Crocker said.
While few absentee ballots had been sent out in some jurisdictions prior to the mistake surfacing — only one had been mailed in Solon Township, Crocker said — Elmwood Township started mailing ballots on June 23 in response to requests. As Elmwood is the most populous township in Leelanau County, some 450 faulty ballots have been mailed to township residents — and 100 have been turned in.
Preston said all ballots are numbered, which will allow her office to check for and eliminate duplicates.
She hopes that residents who have already filled out a ballot will take the time to cast a replacement.
“Hopefully, they’ll replace it. But if they don’t get the reissued ballot back, and they’ve already turned in the older one, we’ll process the original,” said Preston.
Crocker said her office had proofread a sample ballot several times before giving approval to print. But she had forgotten about a vote made in January by the County Board of Commissioners to place the Road Commission request before voters in the Primary election.
She encourages residents to vote absentee if they are eligible. Anyone over 60-years-old or with one of several other valid reasons can request an absentee ballot.
“Some people just like the comfort of being able to vote from their home. Some people like the opportunity to study and look at it,” Crocker said.
County clerk’s office lays off deputy; lack of work cited
The county clerk’s office is operating with one fewer employee, the result of a dropping workload.
Clerk Michell Crocker in June laid off one of three deputy clerks employed by the county. A reduction in the number of transactions handled by the clerk’s office since the recession was the main reason for the layoff, Crocker said. In particular, jurisdiction over passports was changed through federal law from the clerk’s office to the register of deed’s office.
Consequently, Cathy Fenlon was laid off. Crocker said a Teamster’s Union contract requires that Fenlon, who had less seniority than the two other deputy clerks, be let go first.
“At this point, I just don’t feel I can justify all three of my deputies,” said Crocker.
The position was budgeted to cost the county $50,000 annually, which includes benefits such as health insurance and retirement.