Michigan primary will face different challenges than Iowa


OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The problems with tabulating the Iowa caucus results are being watched closely by election officials in Michigan, with the state only about a month away from its presidential primary.

“It’s really an interesting bellwether in some ways for what we can expect throughout the cycle,” Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck told News 8 Tuesday as officials in Iowa struggled to get results in.

However, Roebuck said not to expect to see the same problems when Michigan holds its primary March 10. There are big differences between a caucus and a primary.

While both are run by the political parties, in Michigan, results are collected and tabulated county clerks. In Iowa, party officials are in charge of getting votes tabulated.

“The political parties in Iowa have another full-time job and they are not election administrators, and I think that can be a big difference,” Roebuck said.

In Iowa, the issue centered on a new app used to report vote totals.

Here in Michigan, no apps or other noncertified election methods will be used. Election results will be handled like they are during general elections.

But there are concerns among Michigan clerks.

“The issue that may have caused the delayed results in Iowa are different issues than they would be in Michigan,” Roebuck said.

The main one is the measure voters approved in 2018 allowing for no-reason absentee balloting.

In the 2016 presidential election, 36,000 voters cast absentee ballots in Ottawa County.

“I believe we can easily see a 50% increase in that number, realistically,” Roebuck said of this November’s election.

Under current Michigan election law, absentee ballots have to be placed in a special precinct and can’t be counted until election day. Even prior to no-reason absentee voting, the counting of those ballots often pushed the results well into the evening and sometimes into to the next morning, especially in larger urban areas with high voter turnout.

But legislation before the state Senate would speed up the process by allowing security measures — like making sure the name on the ballot matches the voter’s signature or that the number on the ballot matches the envelope — to be checked before Election Day.

“We’re not talking about counting votes up and releasing vote totals. We’re talking about security, making some of those checks that are necessary,” Roebuck said.

Separate legislation in the state House of Representatives would allow smaller communities with smaller staffs to contract with counties or larger cities to count absentee ballots.

There’s no word on when legislators may vote on those bills, but clerks who support them would like to see them in place for the presidential election on Nov. 3.

“To me, there’s nothing more important than a secure and accurate election,” Roebuck said. “But timeliness really plays a factor in to it. “


Michigan Voter Information Center

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