CLERKS GATHERED AT OWOSSO CHARTER TOWNSHIP included (from left) Owosso City Clerk Amy Kirkland, Burns Township Clerk Shirley Riley, Shiawassee County Clerk Caroline Wilson, Owosso Charter Township Clerk Pat Skvarenina and Owosso Deputy Clerk Carrie Farr.
Clerks in Shiawassee County are seeking people interested in becoming certified election workers for the upcoming elections on Aug. 2 and Nov. 8. You must be registered to vote and declare a party preference. Party affiliation is used to ensure a politically balanced mix of election workers. It is not required to be a registered member of your preferred party. Trainees will attend training prior and the pay range is from $10 to $13 per hour. Teens 16 to 17 may participate and voter registration is not required.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
Meeting at the Owosso Charter Township Office on Delaney Road on Friday, May 20, several local clerks came together to discuss the ins-and-outs of this election year, wanting to ensure constituents that voting is secure in Shiawassee County. Every clerk in attendance reiterated they are willing to offer those with doubts direct insight into the process – and would very much appreciate the assistance from those willing to train as election workers – opening the door for people to be of help.
In discussing Election Day 2020, most of the clerks attending shared a disconcerting tone of hostility was expressed by some constituents, which had not been observed in previous elections. The overall thought was that the hostility mostly stemmed from the pandemic, extremism from media/political sources and social media – creating a storm of distrust.
Going forward, the clerks request voters simply be patient and civil come Election Day. It is an exceedingly long day for both clerks and most election workers who are there professionally and as a public service in support of the democratic process.
The clerks also shared some voters were skeptical when their driver’s licenses were electronically swiped in 2020 at the polls. It must be noted that come Election Day, when your driver’s license is swiped, the polling place has limited access to data simply to prove your identity and correct address. Nobody knows your driving record. Nobody is collecting unnecessary information. The system relies on a limited state data bank, allowing the election worker to correctly identify a voter as a voting safeguard to ensure one vote per person.
One example of not swiping a driver’s license could see the following situation: A father, son combo that vote in the same location, sharing the same name, but voting at different times. The son votes prior to the father, but without the driver’s license tool, it is not caught and inadvertently, the father if marked as having voted instead of the son. The election worker swiping a driver’s license is faster and more accurate and can prevent such situations.
Owosso City Clerk Amy Kirkland stated, “The election system is generally, across the board, trustworthy. Very honestly, if you are someone that really wants to sway an election, you’re not going to go to each and every township and city and try to mess with their machines or ballots or anything else. You’re going to go on social media and you’re going to do just a big blast announcement about something that’s totally not true and then watch it roll.”
Regarding Facebook news pages, the admin(s) of any news page simply need to register a page under “news” without offering any professional accreditation to substantiate the claim. This is still permitted on Facebook and was tested again on Tuesday, May 24.
Shiawassee County Clerk Caroline Wilson confirmed that some people during the 2020 election were almost trying to “poke the bear,” mentioning guns being allowed at election sites, which continues to be a concern for some election workers.
“We’re an open carry state, but if someone comes in with a gun, then yes, it makes everyone feel uncomfortable, especially with the society we live in today,” Wilson said.
Some areas of public confusion in 2020, according to the clerks, stemmed from absentee ballots and the state’s ballot application process. A basic fact: you can’t bring in your absentee ballot on Election Day and expect the tabulator to accept it. The election worker will have to void the absentee ballot, officially accounting for that ballot – and then offer you another numbered ballot for the tabulator. Second: early voting is not the same as absentee voting. Michigan does not count ballots until Election Day, though some states do. Third: Michiganders approved absentee voting in 2018, a fact many voters forgot in 2020.
Regarding applications for ballots, the clerks agreed the state caused undue confusion in 2020 by sending out applications and allowing multiple sources to send out applications, as well. Some constituents, receiving multiple applications, thought they were receiving actual ballots; not understanding the applications could just be eliminated as trash. Regardless of how many applications were filled out, a constituent was permitted just one ballot – every ballot submitted carefully identified and counted.
If a similar situation were to arise this year, the consensus from the clerks is to contact them with any and all questions. In discussing the absentee ballots, every single signature on a ballot, with every ballot numbered, is carefully confirmed at a clerk’s office.
Some items a voter can do ahead of Election Day to make the process smoother include: contacting their clerk early with any questions, register to vote earlier, confirm the residential address on file is accurate and take responsibility for your vote as a constituent ahead of voting.
If interested in becoming an election worker, contact your clerk or the county clerk. The training will take roughly three hours for a two-year certification. High school students 16 and older are welcome to participate and are allowed some responsibilities in the election process, which is a great educational opportunity.
Also, drop boxes for absentee ballots, etc. were not new in 2020. For some jurisdictions, drop boxes may have been new to that site, but drop boxes have been securely and successfully used for many years. The city of Owosso has used a secure drop box behind city hall for a long time. The clerks agreed a drop box can’t just be stuffed with “mystery” ballots. Again, all ballots are numbered. All absentee ballots are then confirmed for signatures and appropriate information – one ballot at a time.
“Why I know there is no way that the election done here, and I’m going to assume in every other place, is rigged, all starts with Caroline sending us the ballots,” Owosso Charter Township Clerk Pat Skvarenina stated of the county clerk. “We have to do a test deck. Every jurisdiction has to do a test deck. It’s not just testing the ballots, which are ordered by the county and delivered. You get them early.” The testing ballots (test deck) must be carefully looked over for stray marks, dates, etc. Then the ballots are used to confirm the tabulator, always stored in a locked room, is working. The tabulator is never connected to the internet (including Election Day). The testing ballots are fed – by an elections committee and not the clerk – into the tabulator and the data must perfectly match the clerk’s ballot spreadsheet. This is done in advance of the election. The tabulator testing is open for public viewing. Once the testing is complete, the paperwork is kept and sealed for 22 months. Following this preliminary testing, the ballots can be distributed to constituents.
Ahead of all of this jurisdictional ballot testing, the county clerk has already tested the ballots, along with the programmer that provides the spreadsheets and related elements. Everything is always sealed. Ultimately, secure testing is done at multiple levels by certified individuals to ensure the process is precise and accurate. Again, for those in doubt, the tabulator testing is open for public viewing. According to the clerks, the public usually does not come.
“The funny thing is, that when you call people out and ask if we can take them through the process, can we show you the machine, they are always like no, no,” shared Owosso Deputy Clerk Carrie Farr, of those that decline the information.
When Election Day arrives, a public area is available at each jurisdiction for those wanting to watch the process, as well. However, no interactions or disruptions of any sort are permitted and all rules/laws regarding a polling location on Election Day must be followed. The pre-tested tabulator, which was sealed following the initial ballot testing and then locked, is brought out of storage. The seal is verified by certified election workers prior to use and on that day.
“We take a whole number of measures to make sure that the machines and ballots are secured. There is a chain of custody for the equipment and the ballots,” said Owosso City Clerk Amy Kirkland. “I have to be able to know every step and account for every ballot.”
“If somebody wanted to tamper, they would need almost the whole county involved,” Shirley Riley, clerk of Burns Township, shared. “It would take so many people. It’s just not possible.”
Shiawassee County will continue using Dominion Voting Systems in 2022. The county clerk explained the county still has a 10-year contract with Dominion and she has been overwhelmingly pleased with their services. The other clerks agreed that Dominion has been exceedingly professional in previous elections and expressed they are confident in their services. Dominion offers electronic voting tabulators, which have become a source of multi-media disinformation on hacking, though the tabulators are never hooked to the internet. Stories connecting Dominion to election fraud have continuously been discredited, including a case in Antrim County where a Michigan Senate review found no fraud. A lawsuit alleging fraud has been dismissed, too. As of mid-May, Dominion has pending countersuits for defamation over social media posts asserting the election was rigged – social media posts from sources that have currently offered no substantiation. It should be noted, that even following the 2020 Vernon Township Precinct 2 recount, which had nothing to do with Dominion, the Dominion data remained solid.
Shiawassee County began using Dominion in 2017 and it had been one of three vendors considered at the time. Out of 83 counties in Michigan, 66 decided on Dominion.
“Dominion’s customer service has been stellar,” Wilson stated and the other clerks agreed.
Michigan’s primary election is set for Tuesday, Aug. 2 and the general election will be Nov. 8. Polling hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.