Lansing-area townships clarify instructions for absentee voters

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When Meridian Township voters opened their absentee ballot marking instructions, they were presented with directions on how to vote straight party even though straight ticket voting is banned for the Nov. 6 general election in Michigan.

I was contacted by a voter last week who was confused because the instructions that are included with the absentee ballot that was mailed to them included instructions on how to mark a straight party ballot,” said Ingham County Clerk, Barb Byrum.

Although the instructions were incorrect, voters do not need to worry because the ballot is accurate. Meridian Township Clerk Brett Dreyfus said that there is no need for voter confusion because there is no straight party option on the ballot.

“There is no way for any voter in Meridian Township to spoil or invalidate their ballot by attempting to vote straight ticket,” said Dreyfus. “People are going to have to vote the same way whether or not that mistaken line about straight ticket voting was included in the instructions.”

Byrum said she has attempted to correct the situation by releasing a press release on Oct. 9 stating that the Supreme Court has banned straight ticket voting and will implement this ban on the Nov. 6 election.

According to an Oct. 10 article in the Detroit Free Press, absentee voters in Delhi, Delta and Meridian Township received old ballot marking instructions that do not reflect the current voting law.

Meridian Township Clerk Brett Dreyfus said part of the error was due to their printing vender, Printing Systems, Incorporated.

He said: “We use a printer that serves jurisdictions across the state. They sent out to us, Delhi Township and Delta Township. They all used the ballot marking instructions that said there was a line item about how to vote straight ticket. The Michigan courts upheld the ban on straight ticket voting the same week that ballot instructions were mailed out. In that overlap, the printer made a mistake.”

Byrum’s press release said that the printing vendor has documentation stating that 6,000 ballot sheets were mailed with incorrect instructions before the decision to ban straight ticket voting was ordered by the court and 1,000 sheets were mailed after the court’s decision.

Dreyfus said, referring to the printing company: “They specialize in this. They knew it was going to be up for court decision that week. It was already currently illegal before the court upheld it so why would they send out instructions containing it.”

He also said that the printing company should not be the only one to blame.

“However, each of our jurisdictions also did not proofread the ballot marking instructions,” said Dreyfus. “We only proofread it in our office for typos.”

Byrum said that the township clerks are responsible for mailing out absentee ballots.

“He could have been more thorough and paid closer attention,” she said.

Dreyfus said that he takes responsibility for his part in the error.

“I assured people in Meridian Township that a mistake won’t happen again,” he said. “We will be more diligent in proofreading our ballot materials.”

He said he made sure to correct the mistake when he was notified.

“As soon as we found out about them, we put a notice on our website and we also had a news release put out so that we can assure people that there is no straight-ticket voting.” said Dreyfus.

George Nastas, the Republican candidate for state representative in the Nov. 6 election, said he is not concerned about voter confusion.  

“Voters will educate themselves, make informed decisions and vote,” said Nastas.

In contrast, Julie Brixie, the Democratic candidate for state representative in the Nov. 6 election, said that she has heard many concerns from voters.

“It has caused quite a bit of confusion and fear that people have ruined their ballot somehow or gotten the wrong ballot because there was no straight ticket voting available,” said Brixie.

Dreyfus said he believes that the Ingham county clerk’s press release title being, “Voter Confusion in Meridian Township” seemed to lead to more confusion.

Brixie is worried about people not getting the complete message because this is news indicating that something is wrong.

Brixie said: “There are high information voters, which are people who educate themselves about the process and candidates and consume a lot of different news sources, and low information voters, which are people who may not watch or read any news, and we want all people to vote.”

Dreyfus also said the press release did not tell the whole story.

Dreyfus said: “It is important to note that the press release failed to mention the other township, Delhi Township, which is also located in Ingham county. If she was being fair about it, she would have actually said voter confusion in Meridian Township and Delhi Township.”

Byrum said that she was not aware of the mistake in Delhi County at the time of the press release and she has responded to numerous calls, emails, texts and social media messages in regards to voter confusion in Meridian Township.

“I am just trying to let everyone know right now for the November election, there is a ban on straight party voting so individuals must mark for every race,” said Byrum.

She said she is concerned about this change because it will add five minutes to the voter experience so she recommends voting by absentee ballot to avoid long polling lines.

“I am encouraging people to vote by absentee ballot if they qualify so in Michigan you have to currently have reason to vote by absentee ballot,” Byrum said. “One can be that you’re 60 years young or more but another can be that you expect to be out of the area on Election Day, among the few other qualifications.”

Voters can continue requesting absentee ballots until Saturday, Nov.3, at 2 P.M.

A survey of Michigan counties showed straight ticket voting was conducted by 50 percent of voters in the 2012 election. Source: Mlive.com