Because absentee ballots doubled compared to the 2016 presidential election, Ingham County’s counting board is critical to this election. This county board is made up of county residents who will process and account for each ballot.
Absent Voter Counting Board
An absent voter counting board or AVCB is a separate group of inspectors who process absentee ballots in designated locations with their own tabulators.
The AVCB handles large numbers of absentee ballots said Ingham County Clerk, Barb Byrum. She said changes have been made this year in terms of operating the counting boards.
Typically, absentee counting boards usually occur at the local level at the city and township clerk’s office; however, the Governor signed Public Act 95 of 2020 that allows for a consolidated county absentee counting board, said Byrum.
Need for an AVCB due to high volume of absentee ballots
Michiganders are choosing to avoid physically going to the polls and are voting via absentee ballot instead.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson recently announced that over 2.7 million voters have requested an absentee ballot. Compared to the 2016 presidential race, there has been a 145% increase in requests of mail-in ballots, according to The Detroit News.
Clerk Byrum explained the county has received 60,771 absentee ballots. That is twice the number of absentee ballots it received during the 2016 presidential election.
“The numbers have already doubled and we are two weeks out from the election. We are currently on track to triple the number of absentee ballots compared to the 2016 election,” said Byrum.
Establishing an AVCB
An AVCB is established by the election commission of a county, said Richard Hayes, Ingham County election inspector.
“Several townships get together and have the election commission of a county actually administer the absentee ballot counting board,” Hayes said.
“So, all the ballots that have been turned in and accounted for are transferred to the county the day of the election for the counting board, and they will go through those ballots and tabulate them,” Hayes said.
According to Chapter 8 of the Michigan Bureau of Elections, if a city or township wishes to create an AVCB, the election commission for that city or township must establish it and is usually done when there is a higher number of absentee ballots than usual.
The election commission has to appoint at least three inspectors to each precinct and also has to ensure their appointments follow the same procedures as precinct inspectors who work the polls, according to the Duties of Local Election Commission section of the Chapter 8 document.
It also states that the election commission is responsible for providing a place where the AVCB can meet. The city or township clerk is responsible for providing the board with all the necessary supplies to process these ballots which is found on page 2 of the document
According to the Michigan Clerks Absentee Voter Counting Board Training powerpoint, after being selected to serve on the board, members have the pre-election responsibilities of verifying signatures on the absentee ballot return envelopes, sorting each envelope by precinct, reporting the total number of returned ballots, determine how many tables, tabulators and ballot containers are needed and signing an oath sheet stating they will communicate about any information regarding the ballots.
The counting board training powerpoint went on to explain the tasks of each member on election day. As stated in the website, two board members sitting across from each other will open and remove the ballots to verify the ballot number, put the return envelope in one tray and remove the stub to put in another tray. The next two board members will remove the ballot from their sleeve and back fold it so the fifth board member can begin to process the stack in the tabulator. Once all ballots are tabulated then that precinct is complete, and the board is set to begin the next precinct.
How to become a part of an AVCB
The process of joining the AVCB is simple and everyone is encouraged to join because every precinct needs as much help as they can get.
Shayne Pratt, who was a part of a Detroit AVCB during the primary elections on Aug. 4, 2020, explained that being a part of the board is worthwhile. “The overall experience was beneficial to myself and my county,” said Pratt. “I encourage everyone to be a part of an absent voting counting board especially now because every city and every precinct is overwhelmed with these ballots and I think of this as a way to ensure everyone’s vote is being accurately accounted for”.
Anyone who is interested in working on the AVCB in Meridian Township can apply on their official city website. This is a paid position with a two-hour training prior to election day and has many safety precautions to ensure that all board members feel safe and comfortable as stated under the “COVID-19 Information” column on the website.