Elmwood clerk set to only focus on election
“It’s less stress than when you’re trying to run the election and making your own campaign,” Preston said.
She’s held the clerk position for 12 years, but was relatively inexperienced when she was voted in for what is also a full-time job. Preston is a voting member of the Elmwood Township Board.
“You come in and you talk to other clerks and you figure it out,” she said.
Preston ran for office because her father was involved in local politics and he told her it would be a great job. She thought she would be getting the mail and taking the minutes at township board meetings.
So it was a surprise when she realized her list of duties would be as long as her arm. Those duties include record-keeping for the township and doing the accounts payable and the payroll, as well as general bookkeeping. And, of course, running the elections. It’s a job that starts several months before the actual election and culminates in the 16-hour election day that begins at 6 a.m. and doesn’t end until at least 10 p.m. — that is, if everything goes right.
Preston began working on this year’s election on May 15, the filing deadline for candidates. She gets help every year from a little book that’s updated annually titled “2012 Michigan Election Dates.”
As early as June she began ordering the supplies she’ll need — ballots, envelopes, felt-tip markers and precinct kits that hold everything needed on election night, such as a poll book and affidavits for voters who don’t have a picture identification.
Preston also begins mailing out applications from a permanent absentee voter list she keeps. And when those applications come back, she mails out a ballot and keeps track of those when they begin to trickle in.
Every precinct must also perform a public accuracy test prior to any election to verify the accuracy of the program. Every race and every ballot question has to be tested to make sure someone can’t over vote a race. Over voting most often occurs when voters must choose more than one candidate; it’s usually not done on purpose, Preston said. They’ve just chosen too many candidates.
Once the polls close results are phoned in or sent by modem to County Clerk Michelle Crocker, who keeps a master tally. The ballots themselves have to be taken to the clerk’s office in the County Government Center in Suttons Bay on election night.
But before that happens Preston must make sure the poll book, which keeps track of every voter that comes in to cast a vote, and the tabulator, that machine that sucks in the voted ballots, agree. If they don’t, Preston said, she can’t go home until the error is found.
“The most likely suspect is a ballot that jammed in the machine,” Preston said. “It went through, but didn’t get tabulated.”
Ballots will swell up if it’s hot and humid, she said. So with all the technology upgrades that have been made to the voting process through the years, Preston counts getting air conditioning in Elmwood Township’s two voting precincts as the best one, as the ballots no longer get stuck.
If Preston can’t find the problem she’ll call Crocker, whom she says is an excellent trouble-shooter.
“I’ve been here until midnight before,” she said.
Preston said she’s never had any voters who didn’t want to follow the rules, though once a woman came in to vote who really shouldn’t have been there. Preston said she kept making mistakes on her ballot. After giving her several new ones, they put her on the AccuVote tabulator, a foolproof voting machine for people with disabilities. It has a sip and puff for those who are paralyzed, as well as Braille or an option in which it will read the ballot aloud to voters.
“She was the funniest lady,” Preston said. “She was just as pleasant as could be. Turns out the lady had gotten away from the nursing home. And her ride was also an escapee — he drove her here.”
Preston said nursing home residents have every right to vote, but they usually do so via an absentee ballot. Preston, in fact, will even drive to a nursing home to pick the ballots up.
Anyone who is in line by 8 p.m. gets to vote. There is also emergency absentee voting for those who may find themselves in a hospital on election day. They just need to fill out an application and a written authorization for someone to pick up and return a ballot, Preston said.
Clerks do not make judgments as to whether someone is of sound mind and able to vote. Drunk people can also vote, she said, as long as they don’t disrupt the voting process.