Donnie Bettes is a former teacher and urgent-care physician who lives in Genoa Township in Livingston County. She is a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 42nd District.
In a recent Bridge guest commentary, State Rep, Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township, said that “now is not the time for sweeping changes in how Michigan votes.” This statement was in reference to Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s decision to mail 7.7 million applications for absentee ballots to registered voters. With this theoretical “massive influx of mailed ballots,” Bollin goes on to say, “local clerks were concerned that they could not keep up with the influx of requested forms and ballots” and this was a “... grim foreshadowing of the thousands, if not millions, of voters who could be disenfranchised in November....”
These changes were part of a decision Michigan leaders made, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, to relax some voting practices this fall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has complicated in-person voting and raised concerns across our nation on how to make voting safe for everyone. “By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Benson said in a news release. “Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe, and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”
In her Bridge commentary, Bollin goes on to cite Ohio’s April 28 primary, stating that “… the Board of Elections were overwhelmed with the number of ballot request forms and ballots to be sent out and verified.” And, she continued, “Local clerks weren’t given time to update the voter rolls.” But she also had to admit that “here in Michigan, local clerks were already preparing for an increase in mail-in or absentee ballots, due to the passage of Proposal 3.”
This questionable concern about clerks being “overwhelmed” has already been exposed by a surprising truth-teller. Appearing on Fox & Friends, President Trump opined openly that Democrats’ proposals of absentee ballots, would lead to “… levels of voting that, if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” It seems Bollin advocates with the president, when she states, “With only a few short months before a pivotal presidential election, now is not the time to make sweeping changes to Michigan elections.”
So is Bollin accurate? Would local clerks, who Bollin admits have been preparing for an increase in absentee ballots since late 2018, be “overwhelmed”? To find out, I called clerk offices in the City of Brighton, Genoa, Greenoak, Hamburg and Putnam townships. I was informed that they looked at the data, identified their needs, and received funding for extra staff and materials to make the needed changes. Clerks told me that they were well prepared to deal with an increase in absentee ballots.
Another clerk told me that, considering the advance warning with the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, along with the sudden anticipated increased request for mail-in-ballots, they were able to hire and train additional staff to handle these “sweeping changes.”
When I quoted clerks the section of Bollin’s commentary, which states that more voting-by-mail could mean that "...thousands, if not millions, of voters who could be disenfranchised," clerks quickly refuted the statement. They reassured me that when these ballots are received, they are thoroughly verified and then diligently recorded. Another clerk's office told me that they welcomed any voter to come and volunteer on election day, and observe how they watch and scrutinize the ballots, to make sure they are safe and everyone’s vote is counted.
Voter rolls have been updated throughout Livingston County, and the technology has been modernized and tested. In fact, I personally went to a township hall to observe the testing of these ballot counting machines. The technologists demonstrated to all in attendance, the reliability and accuracy of these machines that will be used in all precincts throughout Michigan.
Ann Bollin is a professional politician. She has been a township planner and clerk, and now state representative since 2003. Are her fears founded on facts, or is she loyal to a party line, according to which Gov. Whitmer is a shameless autocrat, and masks are for wimps? Where businesses opening prematurely are more important than the public’s health?
As a semi-retired primary care physician, I am loyal only to what scientists and the data tells me. Asking tens of thousands of Livingston County voters, in the midst of a pandemic, to stand in long lines on November 3, where social distancing is difficult to maintain, is foolish and endangers the lives of voters and their loved ones. Even the president, who votes by absentee ballot, has come to realize how essential social distancing and mask wearing is to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is causing us all to make sweeping changes. Without this worldwide pandemic, I doubt anyone would wake up in the morning and say “I think I will wear a face mask and socially distance today,” but most people are doing it, because science has shown this to be the best method of preventing and spreading the disease. Our first responders, hospitals, businesses and essential services are all making sweeping changes in how they screen and treat the public. Scientists are working at a record pace to develop a vaccine for this virus.
My goal is that my due diligence will give voters reassurance on using mail-in-ballots, as a way to exercise their civil right to vote in a secure, responsible and safe manner. The only way we will have our voices heard and control this pandemic is through listening to our local leaders and disease specialists, evaluating the data, and working together to make the changes needed.