Election changes create challenges

Changes to election law, and how Tuscola County deals with it, poses some challenges for Christine Kolar.

The Columbia Township clerk, like other township, county and city clerks around Michigan, is figuring out how things are different in light of November’s passage of Proposal 3. Among the noteworthy changes brought on by that vote are the ability to register to vote at your local city or township hall up to and including the day of an election and still get to cast a ballot; and the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot without having to provide a reason.

“Proposal 3 has brought in a lot of changes when it comes to elections,” Kolar said at Monday’s Columbia Township board meeting.

Now Tuscola County clerk Jody Fetting is polling local clerks about proposed changes in an agreement with county school districts.

Under the existing agreement, when there is just a school election, Kolar said, the township with the most residents in the district hosts the election. When Akron-Fairgrove Schools residents voted in May, people in Akron, Almer, Columbia, Juniata and Wisner townships voted in Fairgrove Township. People in Gilford Township voted at their township hall because the township had a road millage on the same ballot.

The thinking behind the agreement was to ease the burden on local clerks. The passage of Proposal 3 in November, however, requires clerks in all townships to be on hand to allow people to register to vote on the day of an election. 

“They are wondering whether or not to do away with those contracts,” Kolar said, “and have every jurisdiction open rather than having a host jurisdiction.”

That’s particularly bothersome for Columbia Township because it is part of five school districts – Akron-Fairgrove, Unionville-Sebewaing, Owendale-Gagetown, Caro and Cass City.

“For us, as a township, it affects us the most,” Kolar said. “Other townships do not have the same scenario we do.”

For any election, she said, the township is required to have three election inspectors plus two members of the receiving board on site, regardless of how many potential voters there will be.

“We do have school districts,” she said, “that have very minimal numbers of voters in the township.”

State law has limited potential elections to three times a year – May, August and November. Before those regulations were passed, school elections could pop up more frequently. 

Having solo elections, however, is a greater expense for school districts because they pay all of the costs incurred for ballots, election workers, etc. It is cheaper for schools to put issues on a ballot that already includes something else.

“But schools tend to want it on an off time,” Kolar said, “so we really haven’t eliminated those things. Hopefully more of them will opt for general elections and primary elections (when other things are on the ballot) and it won’t become an issue.”

For now, however, the contracts with school districts remain in effect. But that proposal is being considered.

“And it is not necessarily set in stone that is what is going to happen,” Kolar said. “The county clerk is just putting that out there. But other counties are looking at that as well.

“So, we’ll see what happens.”

Mark Haney is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at haney@tcadvertiser.com.

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