Challengers allowed, expected at county’s polling locations

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Jack Armstrong

Jack Armstrong

The MSU Union will serve as a polling location for East Lansing residents in the upcoming Nov. 8 elections.

The City of East Lansing is planning for election challengers to be at every city polling location Nov. 8, according to City Clerk Jennifer Shuster. The city has seen an increase in election challengers and poll watchers since the 2020 presidential election.

“We used to see one or two throughout the election, but now it’s definitely increased,” Shuster said. “We are seeing more people trying to come and see if there’s any wrongdoing.” 

Election challengers are typically appointed by major political parties or arrive as representatives from political organizations. They must be registered and approved, and are limited to a specific, designated area at a polling location. They cannot speak to voters, and are permitted only to speak with a designated election official if they feel that a challenge is warranted. If a challenge is issued, concerns are addressed by a liaison or a precinct chairperson.

“The secrecy of the ballot is the number one priority of the day. Making sure everybody has a right to a sacred area to vote, a quiet place that is nonpartisan.”

Jennifer Shuster

In the past, political organizations have employed challengers and poll watchers to observe the demographics of voters, understand which demographics haven’t shown up to vote, and “rally the troops” to gain more votes for their party, Shuster said. Now, the city is seeing an increase in challengers that are questioning the integrity of the voting process. 

“A challenge could be a person’s actual qualifications to be a registered voter…they could question that they’re not really of age to be registered to vote, that they don’t really reside at the residence that they’re registered to vote at,” Shuster said. “They could also challenge the process that the election workers are putting the voter through, whether they think that they’re not giving them their full rights as a voter.”

Shuster said she anticipates challengers from both major political parties. However, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said the Republican Party produces most challengers in Ingham County.

“It seems as though typically the Republican Party targets jurisdictions with large populations and students when looking for places to assign poll challengers,” she said. “Republican challengers typically come to challenge the credentials of a voter.”

Byrum, a Democrat, also said law organizations occasionally send challengers to ensure that voters are being afforded the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

Ben Dawson is the Human Resources Administrator for the City of East Lansing and will be a precinct chairperson for the election. This year, he worked at a polling place during the August primaries. Dawson said there were no election challengers at his polling location in East Lansing. 

“In my read of it, it’s very uncommon, mostly common in presidential years,” Dawson said. “We had a designated spot set aside for poll watchers, and nobody came to our precinct.” However, Dawson said there may have been a lack of challengers because of the scale of the election, which was mostly for local school and municipal candidates. He said the November election may be more popular with challengers because of Michigan’s gubernatorial and Secretary of State elections. 

However, even if challengers are present, there has not been a single challenge issued in the entire time Shuster has served as city clerk, she said, almost five years. 

Byrum encourages voters concerned about encountering election challengers to vote by absentee ballot. In Michigan, voters can register, receive an absentee ballot, and hand it right back to their local clerk.

Despite potential challengers, the voting booth remains sacred, Shuster said. 

“The secrecy of the ballot is the number one priority of the day. Making sure everybody has a right to a sacred area to vote, a quiet place that is nonpartisan,” she said.

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