Jan 8, 2008

Local election officials gearing up for Michigan Presidential primary

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, like the rest of Michigan, is gearing up for the 2008presidential primary on Jan. 15 that is a first for the state.

Swope said his office staff is putting in some overtime to ensure the election is ready to go after numerous starts and stops for court actions, candidates withdrawing and other things, as well as training election workers. Unlike past elections of any kind in Michigan, voters will have to declare if they want a Republican or Democratic ballot before they vote and a record will be made of that. Swope said he has spent some time with his election workers addressing how to handle that situation.

“It’s a pretty unique election in that you have to declare a party to get a ballot,” he said. “Other states do it, but it’s a tradition in Michigan to keep that secret. I expect my staff to get some flack over it on election day.”

There is a full slate of Republican candidates, but some of the top Democratic candidates have withdrawn their names from the ballot to protest Michigan’s decision to have an early primary in violation of the national party’s rules. Those wishing to vote for former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama or Gov. Bill Richardson should vote “Uncommitted,” and those delegates will be sent to the Democratic National Convention as undecided. Swope cautioned under no circumstances should anyone enter a write-in candidate because the ballot will be spoiled and disregarded.

The polls open at 7 a.m. and will remain open until 8 p.m. Swope said he will have extra workers at the 62 precincts at 43 locations across the city to ensure lines are not long. This is the second election in which voters will be required to show a picture ID card to vote, and Swope said he has incorporated lessons learned from the last election. Voters will be asked for an ID, and if they do not have one, they will be asked to sign an affidavit saying they are not in possession of picture identification before they are issued a ballot.

“We don’t send them back to their car or their house,” Swope said. “We simply have them sign an affidavit.

“I strongly oppose asking for an ID, but that's the law,” he said. “We don’t enforce traffic laws, we enforce election laws.”

Because the election is being held in usually cold January, Swope said he has had a high number of absentee ballots. He sent letters to everyone over age 60 asking them if they wanted an absentee ballot, and so far Swope said he has more then 6,100 requests. People who are over age 60 or will be out of town on election day have until 2 p.m. Saturday to request a ballot at their local city or township clerk's office, and they must be returned to or received no later than 8 p.m. on election night at the local clerk’s office.

Because it is hard to find large groups of people gathered at one place during the cold, winter months, voters can expect various groups at the polls collecting signatures on the day of the primary. Groups trying to get legislative initiatives on the general election ballot include Health Care for Michigan pushing for universal health care, a group pushing a part-time legislature, a group wanting to require every tax increase be put on the ballot and an initiative to make Michigan a so-called right-to-work state. There are also individuals collecting signatures to recall lawmakers who voted last October to both increase the state income tax and implement a sales tax on certain services –- the sale tax has since been repealed -- that helped balance the budget and do away with a $1.8 billon deficit.

“People collecting campaign signatures must follow the same rules as a candidate campaigning at the polls,” Swope said. “They have to be 100 feet away from any egress used by voters.”

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