Running low on ballots

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — Lincoln Township Clerk Stacy Loar-Porter has ordered a lot of ballots for the August primary and the general election in November.

The reason for such precautions stemmed from the presidential primary in March. Because municipalities order ballots based on previous election turnouts, Loar-Porter requested enough ballots to cover a 15-25 percent turnout in March.

In March, Lincoln Township had nearly a 48 percent turnout.

“It caught a few of us by surprise,” Loar-Porter said. “It was a much bigger turnout than we expected. It’s a wonderful problem to have because it’s always a disappointment when there’s a low turnout. We were as prepared as we could because there was no indication that this would happen.”

When the township ran out of ballots, workers did the next thing they could. Loar-Porter and her staff made copies of the ballots and then had people fill out a paper ballot.

Afterward, the township had a Republican and Democrat hand tally those ballots for fairness. They were then double-checked before the numbers were sent to Berrien County.

Denise Cook, clerk and interim manager at St. Joseph Township, said they too had an influx of voters in March.

“We ran out of Democratic ballots,” Cook said. “Compared to the previous presidential primary, we ordered 20 percent more than that, and it still wasn’t enough. That’s the rule of thumb.”

When Cook called the county, she was instructed to use the “test ballots” used to test the tabulator that counts and processes votes.

Election officials were able to black out the numbers on the test ballots and write the correct number on them.

“If we had 100 ballots and ran out, the next ballot would be numbered 101, so that’s what we marked,” Cook said. “Those ballots were able to run through the tabulator. If you run out of the test ballots, you make a copy of a ballot. However, the copies won’t run through the tabulator.”

Copies of ballots that were filled out by voters were then sealed and placed in an auxiliary bin until the end of the night. Election workers hand-counted those votes and added them to the tabulation total.

“There’s all different kinds of things that can happen,” Cook said. “You can have machinery break down or run out of ballots. Everybody gets to vote, nobody gets turned away. It just takes a little extra work.”

Cook said the township ran out of ballots one other time. That was in 2010, when St. Joseph Public Schools had a bond on the ballot that brought with it a big turnout.

Since Loar-Porter has been Lincoln Township clerk, she’s only seen one other ballot shortage. That came several years ago when Lakeshore Public Schools had a bond issue.

Loar-Porter said Lincoln Township’s six precincts tend to show a steady turnout in August and November. She said there isn’t a clear answer as to why March was the outlier for a big turnout.

“I just think more people were aware and more invested,” Loar-Porter said. “We had the biggest number of first-time voters that we’ve ever had. But our residents were all very understanding and very cooperative.

“I’m hoping to get at least a 50 percent turnout for the primaries. November will be quite a bit higher with the U.S. presidency on the line.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 30, 2016)

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