Keeping the grass roots growing!!
LAPEER COUNTY — Clerks in Imlay City and Lapeer, Mayfield and Metamora townships are among the 285 around the state who could be in hot water for missing mailing deadlines for military and overseas absentee ballots, or for not responding to Michigan Dept. of State requests for a status on their efforts to provide the absentee ballots for the Aug. 7 primary election.
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced on Friday that a U.S. Dept. of Justice lawsuit could happen due to the clerks’ oversight. If legal action is taken, according to a press release from Johnson’s office, clerks who missed the deadline for providing ballots of military and overseas voters who requested them could be required to extend the time for receiving and counting the ballots of affected voters. By law, clerks must provide the requested ballots at least 45 days before the election.
For now, Johnson has instructed the non-compliant clerks to immediately contact military and overseas voters and to offer a new ballot if one was not received. The clerks in Lapeer and Mayfield townships are among the 70 around the state that missed the deadlines for providing absentee ballots, while the Imlay City and Metamora Township clerks are among the 215 clerks statewide that did not respond to repeated requests from the Department of State for their status. It is not certain at this time how many, if any, of the clerks that did not respond to the status requests did not get the ballots out in time.
“We believe about 150 people could be affected,” said Gisgie Davila Gendreau, communications director for the Department of State.
Most states, Gendreau said, have a county or statewide system for the absentee ballots, but in Michigan, it’s comes down to the more than 1,500 local clerks across the state to take care of the matter.
“Our clerks do an excellent job on the front lines of elections and the vast majority of them did comply with the deadline,” said Johnson in a press release. “It is critical that our overseas voters and military members — who put their lives on the line every day to protect our freedom — get a right to participate in the very system they are protecting.”
Locally, the impact of the missed deadlines appears to be minimal.
Lapeer Township Clerk Dawn Walker said that at least as far as she is concerned, “it’s been blown out of proportion.”
The 45-day deadline was June 23, as Saturday, Walker said, and she got the township’s one requested military absentee ballot sent out two days later, first thing Monday morning. She said she was out of the office the week before the deadline, and prior to that there weren’t any ballots available to send. She hasn’t received a complaint from the voter about the delay, she said.
“The deadline was 45 days before the election. I was at 43, not 45. I wasn’t going to lie when they asked if I got it out on the 45th day or not,” Walker said. “I understand deadlines are deadlines. It is what it is.”
“The last thing I want to see is somebody not get the right to vote,” Walker said. “I’ve always gone out of my way to contact any military voters I have, to see if they are going to vote this year.”
Mayfield Township Clerk Julie Schlaud was also out the week before, attending the Michigan Municipal Clerk’s Association conference where, ironically, they are brought up to date about things such as new election guidelines.
Schlaud said they checked for the ballots to send out before leaving for the conference, but they weren’t available, so the township’s two requested absentee ballots — one military and one for an overseas voter — were sent out first thing on June 25, when they got back into the office. She said neither of the voters have complained about the small delay.
Jennie Dagher, clerk of Metamora Township, said she just plain missed the email about the status request, but said no voters are affected in her township, as she had no requests for absentee ballots for military or overseas voters.
Walker, Schlaud and Dagher all mentioned that it can be difficult to keep up with the everchanging rules for elections.
Imlay City Clerk Janice Zuhlke said she did respond to the Department of State’s email, telling them that the city had no requested absentee ballots.
Gendreau said they don’t know yet if a lawsuit will occur for sure, but said it’s likely.
“They were giving us every indication that they were moving in that direction,” she said.
As far as what will happen to the clerks involved if a lawsuit does occur, “that depends on the Feds,” Gendreau said.