Officials split on how to handle May 5 election


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Michigan, so do calls to cancel the May 5 election.

Not every community has a ballot in a few weeks, but those that do have been directed to rely heavily on absentee mailing. Some officials believe that is not sufficient to protect election workers.

Currently, 16 states have postponed elections or expanded mail-in voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m concerned and disappointed that Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer has not done the same,” Allegan County Clerk Bob Genetski told News 8. “In addition, we’ve had a lot of people thinking that it’s all mail-in election because that’s the verbiage coming out of Lansing, but that’s not the case. We’ll have 10 precincts open in Allegan County and in other counties, they’ll have a lot more open at those precincts. You will have the public interacting with our election inspectors who are going to do the best job they can to run a good election.”

The state’s directive included requiring one polling location to be open in each jurisdiction on Election Day.

“You’ve got a problem with one size fits all government out of Lansing and when they issue those directives, they’re concerned about Detroit and Lansing that might have 15 precincts,” Genetski added. “They’re only going to have one polling location open. In Allegan County, we have one polling location per jurisdiction, on average, So, they’ll have to be open.”

His sentiment is echoed by former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who now chairs the Senate Elections Committee.

She sent a letter to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week asking for May ballots to be consolidated with the August election. 

“Local clerks are having trouble finding election workers and many of them are senior citizens, who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus,” Johnson wrote in her announcement criticizing the election. “Both the election workers working the polls that are open and those processing and tabulating absentee ballots are at risk. Also, they can’t find personal protective equipment, which right now should be prioritized for health care workers and first responders. I am deeply concerned about the impact on the health and safety of Michigan citizens if elections are held in May during this pandemic.”

That concern has to be balanced by maintaining democracy, Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck told News 8. 

“In my view, we have voted in the United States during some really troubling times in the past and I think we really need to think long and hard before we give a governor or a legislature the power to decide which elections are important and which ones are not and for us, we believe the best method going forward is to do it safely,” Roebuck explained.

Many ballot issues have been pushed until the summer election, but he added that some school initiatives need to be voted on now rather than in three months.

“They need this annual operating mileage to go forward on the summer tax bill and that’s why it’s critical for them,” he said. “So, my opinion on it is that we shouldn’t be canceling elections. I think doing this by mail is a safe way of doing it. I think it’s something that we can handle.”

The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office provided News 8 with this statement Friday:

“All jurisdictions were asked to postpone elections if they could do so, and given two additional weeks to make that determination and work out details with the entities that had questions on their ballots. About half the jurisdictions that had elections slated for May decided to postpone. For all jurisdictions that did not postpone, we have mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters and provided detailed guidance on how to carry out their elections while practicing strong hygiene and social distancing. Governor Whitmer’s executive order also enables them to open only one location for in-person voting on election day, and we have recruited more than 1,500 election workers for any clerks who have trouble recruiting their own.”

As the debate continues in and around Lansing, counties are preparing its election workers with hygiene products and other measures to keep them protected on Election Day.

Those efforts are also met with ensuring the supplies are not being taken away from front-line workers meeting the virus head-on.

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