May 7 election first for county with voting changes

March 28, 2019 GMT

If you wait to register to vote, be ready to wait to vote.

That’s essentially one of the impacts of voting that citizens will see after Proposal 3 was passed in the state last November, according to Mason County Clerk Cheryl Kelly.

“If people want to vote, it would be nicer if they register ahead of time to save (time),” Kelly said. “It’s simpler (to be done ahead of time). By the time you get to the polls, you’re in the book already.

“Otherwise, you’re sitting in the polls waiting for the clerk, or in the clerk’s office sitting and waiting for (the clerk) to process. So, it could be a 5-minute in-and-out to vote (if registered ahead of time), but now it could be a half hour because they have to go through the steps. Depending on what precinct you’re in and the location… you might be there a little bit longer, time-wise.”

The May 7 Ludington Area School District bond proposal is the first election the county will have under the new rules, regulations and guidelines.

Proposal 3 made it easier for citizens to register to vote, including same-day registration. The straight-party ticket for voting will return when a partisan election rolls around again, too. Additionally, anyone can get an absentee ballot without any reasons. Those who go to the Secretary of State for items such as change of address forms or new licenses are automatically registered to vote instead of opting in to vote.

The same-day registration is where some of the delays could occur. Kelly said the precinct workers at the poll will not be registering voters. Rather, those voters will need to get with their township clerks.

To prove residency within 14 days of an election and register to vote, voters need a current utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck stub, a government check or a government document. All of those items need the applicant’s name and current address, and the rules governing that have changed rapidly.

At first, paper copies were needed, but now the state’s Bureau of Elections is stating that a clerk can be shown the verification on a cell phone instead of a printed copy.

The polling places and clerks might not be in the same physical building, according to Kelly.

“You have to be in an off-location office. The clerks have to be available on site, or at an available office with internet access… to their township computer, separate from the polling location,” Kelly said. “The voter will not be able to register to vote at the polls.”

For some locations, in some instances, that could mean those who want to register to vote on Election Day will be directed to the clerk’s office in the same building as the poll, but in a different room. In other instances, the clerk’s office might not be in the same building as the polls are located at all.

“For the City of Ludington, they’ll all have to go to city hall,” Kelly said. “There will be a lineup. Because Debbie (Luskin’s) office is … behind all of those locked doors. I don’t know what her set up is going to be.”

It can be more complicated for those voters in the townships around Mason County. Many clerks use their home as their office, and that’s where same-day registration would potentially be taking place.

“With this May 7 election, this is a consolidated school election. Riverton (Township) has voters in the Ludington Area School District. However, under the school’s consolidated election plans, (the voters) have to go to Summit Township to vote,” Kelly said.

Kelly said there are 25 parcels of land in Riverton Township within the Ludington Area School District. Of the 25 parcels, there are 11 registered voters. But there is no way of telling if all of the eligible voters for those 25 parcels are already registered.

“How many of those have eligible voters? I don’t know. How do you begin to know?” Kelly said.

Previously, voters needed to register 30 days prior to an election, and, a reason was needed to vote absentee for those who were younger than 60 years old. Those rules have changed or have been eliminated altogether.

Voters can register to vote up through 15 days ahead of an election at the Secretary of State, the local clerk or via mail.

“It’s kind of like the 30-day registration. But starting with 14 days before an election, a voter has to register with the local clerk with residency verification,” Kelly said. “Mail-in registrations must be notified to apply in person. If you wanted to mail your voter registration, and it’s received from Day 0 to Day 14 before the election, the local clerk is going to have to get ahold of you and process this.

“It is going to require a lot more work of the clerks.”

That includes keeping the clerk’s office open for 8 hours the Saturday and Sunday before the election for absentee voters. Those hours could be 8 hours on one of the days, or the hours can be split between the two days, but it is 8 hours total.

The absentee ballot mailing deadline is 5 p.m. the Friday before an election. The in-person absentee ballot deadline is still 4 p.m. the day before the election.

Kelly said the county clerk’s office will not be open to the public on election days any longer. This is so she and her staff can assist with one of the local clerks, should a problem arise.

“We will be closed on May 7 to be fully available to our local clerks,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re up against with the same-day voter registration. At the local level, if they get inundated with people to register to vote, not all of our locations have internet. And you have to have access to the internet.”

With the May 7 bond proposal for Ludington Area Schools involving fewer than half of the precincts in Mason County, Kelly said it’s an opportunity to see the changes implemented.

“We have reached out to our other clerks, and some of them are coming in to work at other polling locations to assist. At least they offered to,” she said.

While things will be very different for the local clerks, and even those who are registering to vote, voting itself will be just like it has been.

“The process is still the same. You’re still going to be issued a ballot like anyone else, and when you go to get the ballot, you still have to have your ID,” Kelly said. “You’re going to be issued the ballot, you’re going to mark your ballot and you’re going to put it in the tabulator.

“None of that changes.”