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Opinion: Michigan election clerk: Stop the disinformation and threats

While it’s an honor and privilege to serve my community as an election clerk, I can no longer say that it is fun. Abundant disinformation, personal threats, and an onslaught of big-money funded anti-voter bills moving through the Michigan Legislature threaten what the majority of Michiganders want – the freedom to vote and an opportunity to build a democracy that works for us all. Instead of pandering to lies to secure power, the Legislature has an opportunity to build off the successes of the 2020 election. They must make profound and lasting changes voters want, and reject the vitriol that has gripped our democracy.

Michael Siegrist
Michael Siegrist is the Canton Township clerk, and is currently on the board of directors of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. (Courtesy photo)

The 2020 election was safe, free, and fair – and by no accident. Voters, clerks, and advocates alike ensured the pandemic would not derail our democracy.

Michigan’s election system includes a number of safeguards that kept our ballots secure, ensured that no one voted twice, and provided voters the option to choose how to cast their ballots in the way that works best for them. 

In Canton Township, where I serve, we relied on safeguards like early absentee voting and ballot drop boxes to ensure social distancing and reduce the number of people in the building on Election Day; without dampening turnout.

Not only did it work, it was popular.  In Canton, voters had fun with our vintage drive-up drop boxes, taking photos as they deposited their ballots and driving up in classic cars. Data confirms what we saw time and time again: the majority of voters want expanded options to cast their ballots safely and securely before Election Day.

We know that these options work. We know that voters support them. Yet the Legislature insists on going backwards. Instead of putting up barriers to silence our voices, the Legislature must give voters the option to insert their ballots directly into a tabulator during at least two weeks of early voting before Election Day. It’s critical that lawmakers also protect and expand the availability of drop boxes, as well as set uniform standards for their use. Michigan has over 1,500 election officials administering elections for vastly different communities with different budgetary and staffing constraints, so policies on voting options must be flexible.

But, to deliver successful elections for voters, we need resources. The Legislature gave Canton Township no funding to cover the 2020 election, leaving us to seek funding from private sources. Without nonprofit grants, we would have been unable to hire staff to issue absentee ballots to voters, check voter signatures to ensure security, or purchase the popular drive-up drop box that provided voter accessibility. The Legislature must allocate funding to local clerks through standards that equitably serve voters.

In my community, voters want to do more than cast a ballot; they want to ensure their neighbors’ voices are heard too. The Legislature must do more to engage these civically-minded Michiganders as poll workers by adding an option on absentee ballot applications for voters to indicate their interest, and by requiring that the major political parties recruit at least 10 percent of poll workers during each federal election cycle. It would go a long way in ensuring partisan parity at polling places, solving staffing shortages, and reducing disinformation.

Disinformation has gripped our communities. I’ve seen longtime absentee voters reject vote-by-mail and change their voting habits based on lies intended to mislead. My family and I have been personally threatened. It has become clear that facts alone are not enough, and action from trusted messengers is urgently needed.

All ballots were counted fairly and securely in the last election, but the current long counting times led directly to disinformation because many people equate the speed of processing ballots with accuracy. This is unacceptable. The Legislature has a duty to help push back against disinformation and allow for a robust pre-processing and counting period to help provide faster results for voters.

We do not have time for partisan grandstanding in our elections. The Legislature needs to get serious about supporting voters and clerks, and realistically improving elections. Through simple solutions, the Legislature can preserve integrity in our elections and protect our freedom to vote.

Our democracy is counting on it.

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