Knowing the voting rules can ease frustration of election day
Election day can be a hectic time for voters, for election workers and for candidates who are hoping their time spent knocking on doors, shaking hands and gracing local parades was not for naught.
But the day may be especially frantic for those who hold it all together — village, township, city and county clerks. These folks are not only responsible for making sure all the supplies are ordered, that every absentee voter gets a ballot, and that the number of ballots counted agrees with the number of voters checked off in the poll book, they also have to be up on all the election laws, of which there are many.
Every voting cycle it seems there are new laws, but are there too many? Connie Preston, Elmwood Township clerk, doesn’t think so.
“It’s all about making sure people can vote,” she said. “All of the election laws lean toward helping people vote, toward making sure they can exercise their right to vote.”
Kathlyn Feys, Kasson Township clerk, isn’t so sure. “I think they’re getting to go a bit overboard with election law,” Feys said. “I understand that we do need them, but most are passed because of the bigger precincts. And then once they are passed they affect the whole state of Michigan so we do have to enforce them.”
While clerks may be up to snuff, the Enterprise wants its readers also to be election-savvy. Here is a list of election laws that readers may or may not be aware of, as well as some inside info from some area clerks.
1. Registered voters can request absentee ballots in person right up until 4 p.m. on the day before the election, but must fill it out in the clerk’s office.
Most people don’t wait until the last minute to ask for an absentee ballot unless they get sick, said Feys, who will have 24 years in as a township clerk come November. She is giving up her seat this year, when her current term ends on Nov. 19.
2. If a person is in possession of a sealed voted absentee ballot that does not belong to them, they may be committing a felony. So if you’re thinking about asking a friend to drop your ballot off on the way to the mall — don’t, Preston said. The only person who can return an absentee ballot — other than the voter — is a member of their immediate family, a member of their household who has been asked to return the ballot, a person whose job normally includes handling mail, but only as part of their job, or an authorized election official.
“If someone were to bring one in I’m going to explain it to them and I’m not going to call the police,” said Preston, who is currently running unopposed for another four-year term.
3. Absentee ballots must be returned to the clerk in their voting precinct by 8 p.m., when the polls close, on election day.
Feys has never had anyone try to turn a ballot in after the deadline, but if they had, the answer would have been “no,” she said. “There are no exceptions. It has to be in by 8.”
4. Every voter has to show their picture identification or sign an affi- davit saying that they are who they say they are. Picture IDs include a Michigan drivers license, a Michigan state ID, a military ID, or a college ID, as long as the person is a student at the college. If a person is using a drivers license it must be current, although it is OK if the person has moved and the address has not been updated. “We’re not going to turn anyone away if they don’t have voter ID,” Preston said.
Feys said the first year this law went into effect she had one gentleman question it. “He cooperated when we explained it to him,” she said.
5. If a person intentionally exposes their ballot, that ballot becomes invalid and the person will not be allowed to vote in that election. Taking the ballot out of its privacy sleeve so that other voters can see how you voted is considered campaigning.
6. Saying a candidate’s name out loud inside the voting precinct can get a voter disqualified to vote in that election, as it is also considered campaigning.
“That’s a sticky one,” Feys said. “If someone stands in a room and yells a candidate’s name over and over that’s one thing. But if someone just says a name in passing, boy oh boy, I’ve never had that.”
7. In a primary election you cannot split your ticket — you have to vote Democratic or Republican, as the primary is considered a nominating election.
“That’s probably the most difficult thing during an election,” Preston said, but if a person makes a mistake and spoils the ballot they can get a new one.
Feys said most people are aware that they must opt for candidates in just one party. “Sometimes they don’t like it,” she said, but will go ahead and vote once she explains the law to them.
8. A person who is campaigning on election day must stand at least 100 feet from the entrance to the voting precinct. Those who are doing exit polling — asking voters who they voted for — must stand 20 feet from the building. Christine Neiswonger, Empire Township Clerk, remembers four years ago when the medical marijuana proposal was on the ballot. There was a group of supporters in the building across the street from the voting precinct who kept putting up a sign. That’s fine, she said, but it violated the 100-foot restriction.
“We’d go over there and put it down and they kept putting it up,” Neiswonger said. Someone finally had to go over and explain the law to them. “It was a hoot. Up, down, up, down. They were for it, needless to say.”