OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As cities and counties across Michigan prepare for to the new reality of state-mandated early voting, Ottawa County has moved forward on a plan to create four early voting centers.

The board’s Finance and Administration Committee unanimously approved the proposal on Wednesday. The plan’s last remaining hurdle is approval by the full Ottawa County Board of Commissioners. Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck told News 8 he feels “very confident” in the plan passing. 

“We’re very positive,” Roebuck said. “I think I feel very confident. We’ve had positive interactions with our board members as well as every jurisdiction in Ottawa County has been very supportive of it.”

Michigan’s expansion of early voting, requiring it in at least nine days leading up to Election Day, is right around the corner. Early voting must be in place by Michigan’s presidential primary, which is expected to happen in February of 2024. 

Ottawa County’s plan would be in effect over the next two years as is required by the state. The four early voting centers around the county would be open to all registered voters eight hours a day in the nine days before the election. 

The centers would be placed in Georgetown Township, Holland and Grand Haven to serve higher population areas. The last center would be in Crockery Township for voters north of the Grand River.

The team would rent out nonprofit buildings, churches, government buildings and schools. The exact locations have not yet been decided, but Roebuck said his team has had some “really good conversations” with potential hosts and expects to reveal more details by October. 

“It’s gonna be more convenient for voters,” Roebuck said. “It’s gonna be in an area where you’re regularly traveling whether you’re working, shopping, eating out.” 

Roebuck estimated about a third of Ottawa County registered voters would use the early voting centers. Another third will vote traditionally at a polling place while the last third will vote absentee, Roebuck predicted. 

“We look at those numbers and we look at the base at where our voters are, where our registered voters live, we wanted to make sure those locations were convenient but also accessible to the broader region,” Roebuck explained.

While some cities have decided to implement early voting alone, Ottawa County is teaming up with nearly two dozen cities and townships. 

The project costs $769,000 in total. The county would be responsible for paying for election equipment and 50% of equipment maintenance. Cities and townships would cover the material cost of the project, the other half of equipment maintenance and costs of election workers. 

Roebuck says by working together and splitting the costs, taxpayers will save money.

“At a conservative estimate, that’s saving almost $600,000 if each individual local unit of government were to conduct early voting on their own,” Roebuck said. 

The Michigan Legislature has also allocated $30 million in grants incentivizing counties and cities to team up. Roebuck says that will also help bring down costs for staffing and equipment like voting tabulators.

“When we break it down, it’s really a tremendous savings because the 23 jurisdictions are sharing,” Roebuck said. 

The board’s initial approval Tuesday created a full-time elections logistics specialist position who will be tasked with executing the plan on behalf of local governments. 

“They will be responsible for securing those polling locations for the logistics of delivering election materials to the sites (and) the training and hiring and scheduling of election workers,” Roebuck explained. “That’s all happening through our office, but this person is really going to be our point person.”

Ballots won’t be tabulated until after the polls close on Election Night, Roebuck said. In aim of increased security and verification, the ballots will be watermarked.

A live database will ensure each person only votes once. Equipment will be locked in secure rooms at the facilities overnight. 

The whole process over the nine days of early voting will be open to the public. 

“You can come in and observe and watch the process happen and be a part of that in action,” Roebuck said.