Lack of internet access could lead to election day hiccup

CADILLAC — Some local counties and townships are about to run elections for the first time since voters accepted a ballot proposal that drastically changed voting laws in Michigan.

“It’s really going to present some challenges for local clerks,‘ said Missaukee County Clerk Jessica Nielsen. Clerks are “a little bit frustrated.‘

“There’s a lot of scenarios we haven’t thought about yet,‘ since there hasn’t been an election in Missaukee County since voters approved Proposal 3 in 2018, Nielsen said. “This would be our first time implementing those changes.‘

The biggest difference for county and township clerks is that there’s no longer a requirement that voters register a month in advance of Election Day. Now, you can register to vote “up to and including Election Day,‘ Nielsen said.

You can go to bed on Monday, Nov. 4 completely ambivalent about the polls, then wake up on Tuesday, Nov. 5 and decide you want to do your civic duty after all. Prior to the November 2018 passage of Proposal 3, if you weren’t already registered to vote, it would have been too late. But now, all you need to do is show up at your city or township hall with proof of residency. Somebody will check with the state’s voting system (called Qualified Voter File or QVF) to make sure you haven’t already voted, and then you’ll be good to go.

But that step is creating a hiccup for some of Michigan’s most rural townships, such as those in Missaukee and Osceola counties.

Clerks access QVF online.

And not every township has internet access; some don’t even have cellular signal strong enough to set up a mobile hotspot at the township hall.

“Probably half, at least, of our townships don’t have internet access at their halls,‘ Nielsen said. “Prior to this they didn’t need it.‘

Except for on election day, many township clerks do most of their work from home instead of in the township hall.

Some townships are pursuing internet access because of the change in the law, which means an additional cost, Nielsen noted. She cited Bloomfield, Enterprise, Pioneer, and Norwich townships as examples of northern townships with few options for internet access. “Even cell service in some of those townships is almost nonexistent.‘

In Lake County, the township halls all have internet but the signal is sometimes weak, Lake County Clerk Patti Pacola said.

“We’re having to come up with some creative ideas,‘ Nielsen said.

The best workaround county clerks have come up with is to have township clerks call county offices from a township landline on Election Day if an unregistered voter shows up. County clerks will look up voter information on QVF from county offices that do have internet access and relay the information to township clerks on Election Day.

That’s close to what the state recommends.

“We recommend that local clerks who are in areas without internet access go to their county clerk’s office or another secure location with internet service in order to connect to the Qualified Voter File,‘ a Michigan Secretary of State spokesman told the Cadillac News. “The Department of State is also exploring additional solutions and best practices with the help of our Election Modernization Advisory Committee, which includes clerks from across Michigan. Clerks are encouraged to contact our elections staff if further assistance is needed.‘

In Wexford County, where clerks have already experienced the new voter registration laws because of an election in May, this upcoming election is a test that will help clerks learn what needs to be fixed before the general election in 2020.

“We’ll probably have a better idea of what hiccups may come with all of these new changes,‘ said Wexford County Clerk Alaina Nyman.

“I’m happy to know that voters have every option possible to be able to vote,‘ Nielsen said. “But at the same time, I would always stress to check earlier.‘

You can check your registration status and whether there is an election in your community by visiting Michigan.gov/Vote. You can also ask for an absentee ballot online.

Until Monday, Oct. 21, you would have been able to register to vote at any Secretary of State branch office, your township, city or county clerk’s office, at a designated state agency or by mail. However, now that we are in the 14-day window before election day, you can register to vote only at your township or city clerk’s office and it must be in person.

On Election Day, if you are not already registered to vote, you’ll need to go to your township or city hall, not your assigned precinct. To register to vote on Election Day or the 14-day window beginning Tuesday, Oct. 22, you will need to provide proof of residency; the state says acceptable documents include:

• Driver’s license

• State ID card

• Current utility bill

• Bank statement

• Paycheck

• Government check

• Other government

document

Documents must have name and current address.

Digital copies are acceptable.

Cadillac News