How Grand Rapids is preparing for high voter turnout

Elections

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On Tuesday, Michigan voters will decide some key elected positions in Washington and Lansing, as well as three statewide ballot questions. You may also be looking at some local issues when you go to cast your ballot.

With so many races and a high level of interest, voter turnout should be high. Officials at Grand Rapids City Hall are predicting a 53 percent turnout. Next door, Kent County officials are planning for a 60 or 65 percent turnout. Ottawa County officials say turnout there could be as high as 70 percent.

The predicted 53 percent turnout in Grand Rapids compares to 36 percent for the 2014 midterm. It’s closer to the 2016 presidential election, when 63 percent of city voters cast ballots. Add to that a long ballot with a long list of candidates and issues, and some voters could be looking at a long wait in line.

City Clerk Joel Hondorp said his crews are ready. The state requires clerks to print enough general election ballots for very registered voter, so paper won’t be a problem. And the city is basing staffing and equipment levels on the 2016 presidential election turnout numbers.

Still, there are bound to be problems, like voters ending up in the wrong line or wrong polling location all together. To combat that, the city is promoting a good neighbor policy.

“If you’re in line and you notice somebody’s struggling to figure out if they’re in the right place, most people have cellphones now, so help your neighbor. You can go to mi.gov/vote and help them figure out if they’re in the right place,” Hondorp said.

If you end up in the right building but the wrong line, don’t get discouraged and leave without voting. Hondorp, a self-described Willie Wonka fan, has come up with a ‘Golden Pass.’

“They’ll give you a pass to go over to the computer so you don’t have to go wait another hour in line,” Hondorp said.

When voters are looking at the ballot, they’ll notice some changes. The box to vote straight-ticket is gone, the result of recent court battles.

“I call it the straight-party hokey pokey: We had it on, we had it off,” Hondorp said. “You can still vote a straight-party, you’re just going to have to go office by office. And you can split the ticket, so you can vote Republican in one office, Democrat in another, U.S. Taxpayers in another.”

There are ways to avoid long lines at the polls, like voting absentee. Some 15,000 absentee ballots were handed out by the Grand Rapids City Clerk’s Office for this election, about 1.5 times more than the 2014 midterm. 

Cory McLiechey took time off work Monday to cast his absentee ballot at Grand Rapids City Hall.

“Get ahead,” he said. “Beat the line.”

It took him about 10 minutes to fill out the ballot and turn it in. He came prepared.

“I did some research. But I came in here knowing who I was going to vote for exactly,” he said. “You want to do your research ’cause there’s sections on the ballot that’s kind of nondescriptive, so if you don’t know who that person is, you might be voting for the wrong party.”

That’s good advice.

“They come in to vote for president, they come in to vote for governor, and then they go, what is all this other stuff?” Hondorp said. “That’s not the time to learn. Just like in school when you show up for the test, that’s not the time to ask the teacher questions.”

“My tagline for everything is ‘Know before you go,'” he added. “We should be giving this a lot more attention than picking out Black Friday sales.”

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