By Jim Newell
The general election is Nov. 3, when voters will cast ballots for national, state and local elections.
While Orion Township Clerk Penny Shults is expecting high absentee voter requests, she knows that many people will still want to head to the polls on election day.
“That’s our civic duty. People need to get out and vote,” Shults said.
All 15 township precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. (See last week’s issue or the Orion Township website under the “Elections” tab to view precinct locations.)
Voters will also face new safety precautions at the polls due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will be expected to follow some increased safety procedures.
“It sounds simple because it is. People need to wash their hands and they need to conduct themselves in the same manner as when they do for a doctor visit, or to the grocery store, or to other places whatever the case might be,” Shults said.
“People need to practice those same protocols: wear your masks, wash your hands, use your hand sanitizer when you go back to your vehicle when you’re voting in the precincts. And I believe that it’s that simple,” Shults said.
Regarding hand sanitizers, Shults said not to slather on too much before heading in to vote. Every voter that touches the touchscreen tabulators and “it will create major problems for the election equipment and it will actually smear the ink on the ballots if their hands are still wet or the residue.
“So, we don’t encourage people to take a bath in the hand sanitizer before they come in,” Shults said. “Take care of business when you go out, please.”
The township also has approximately 100 sneeze shields, each about three-feet-by-three-feet.
“Each station where a voter will come in contact with an election worker will have those sneeze shields in place,” she said, adding that all election inspectors will wear masks and hand sanitize regularly, clean regularly and have “tons” of ink pens for voters.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the ease of voting by mail-in ballot, many voters are choosing that option instead of showing up at the polls.
To help process the increasing number of absentee ballots quicker, Township Board Trustees Mike Flood and Brian Birney, the elections commissioners for the township, recommended that Orion Township purchase a high-speed tabulator.
“They made a recommendation to the board of trustees back in 2019…to purchase a high-speed tabulator to use at the absent voter counting board because we were tracking what was happening with the uptick of absent voters,” Shults said. “That machine cost $100,000, but I was very thankful that Mike and Brian were spot on when they helped us get prepared for what was coming. Because we saw those permanent absent voter lists double and then triple. And we saw our applications just go up exponentially.”
Shults and her team watched the data after each election and talked to other municipal clerks, many of whom saw there “70-80 percent of their registered voters vote absentee,” she said.
“Otherwise (without the new tabulator) we would have been tabulating them on the same tabulation equipment that’s in the precincts, and that would have been very slow,” Shults said.