As Branch County prepares for its local elections, COVID-19 will undoubtedly be a factor, leaving many to guess how this year’s election season will be different?
Branch County includes the cities of Coldwater, Bronson Quincy and Sherwood; whose residents, city officials and candidates are preparing for an unprecedented election season. Some individuals are nervous about mail-in voting while candidates are adapting their campaigns around the social distancing measures.
“All large public gatherings have been canceled”, said Zachary Stempien, a candidate running for prosecuting attorney, as gatherings of over 100 people have been prohibited. That however, hasn’t stopped Hillsdale College from proceeding with their graduation ceremony.
“Typically, a lot of what you do, especially in a local election is go to parades, go to the fair go to restaurants go door to door,” he said. “You do all of those kind of personal interaction things as well as marketing.”
Stempien said he believes it has really taken the personal touch away from the election process and that this year candidates with pre-established relationships in the community benefit the most.
“In a local election it is going to benefit the person who is more established in the community, the person that has a bigger personal connection, it could be family or friends or whatnot, but they already have those pre-existing relationships to build off of,” said Stempien.
Stempien said he believes the decision between absentee voting and in-person voting should be left up to the individual voters.
“Certainly, I have no issue and support people who do not feel comfortable going to the polls,” said Stempien.
Susan Heath, the City Clerk for Coldwater for the past 26 years, said she has a lot of faith in Michigan’s system, but realizes it is not always perfect.
“It’s a good system,” said Heath. “The qualified voter file will not allow one person to have two ballots in two different jurisdictions.”
Heath said she did however recall an instance where she called a residence due to signature suspicions and was notified the resident was convicted, resulting in his incarceration.
“Perhaps his wife signed hers and his and sent it in,” said Heath. “I do believe that does sometimes happens, sometimes well-meaning and sometimes for fraudulent reasons.”
She said she has already noticed a larger turnout in voting this year in contrast with four years ago.
“Four years ago, I had 1,563 voters, both absentee and in person on election day, and right now I have 1,605 absentees without even including election day,” she said.
It is unclear how Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new executive order requiring masks inside all public buildings will be enforced on Election Day, as to whether voters will be required to take it off or not to prove their identity, said Heath, but also “voting is kind of sacred and I believe that we don’t want any voter suppression.”
Justin Brady, an independent voter and resident of Coldwater said he doesn’t have faith in the mail-in voting system.
The mail in voting system is geared towards sending out ballots to a home address, filling them out, and mailing them in, but some believe it invites greater potential for fraud.
“I just think that there’s no accountability. Somebody can collect votes and change them if they want. It doesn’t seem like a wise way to do it to me,” said Brady.
Brady said he believes COVID-19 measures have infringed upon individuals’ rights.
“What really scared me about Coronavirus is finding the truth that it took less than 100,000 deaths to shut this country down,” said Brady.
Brady said he’s not trying to downplay those deaths, but, “you are talking about less than a fraction of a fraction of a percent,” as he contrasted that number with the overall U.S. population.
He said he thinks this is a very important election.
“I’m not a democrat or a republican, I’m an independent so I would like to think that both parties would like my vote,” said Brady.