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Politics

Write-in votes slow election results

Hand counts, new equipment delay Monroe County

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    A line forms as voter wait to cast their ballot at the Monroe Family YMCA in Monroe, Mich.

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    Sharon Lemasters

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MONROE -- New equipment and an inordinate number of write-in candidates whose votes had to be counted by hand meant results from Monroe County's primary election came in later than normal Tuesday.

Still, area officials make no apologies. "We want to make sure the results are accurate and things are coming in OK," Monroe County Clerk Sharon Lemasters said Wednesday. "I'm not going to push the clerks or push my staff to hurry up so we can go home. It's not about going home early. It's about getting results in, and getting them in accurately."

Unlike Ohio, where elections are run by county boards of election, Michigan has a decentralized system that, in effect, means cities and townships oversee their own elections. Each ultimately reports its results to the county clerk, who has a number of other duties, including maintaining the county's birth, death, and marriage records, and recording deeds, mortgages, and other official documents.

RELATED CONTENT: Aug. 7 northwest Ohio, southeast Michigan election results

Ms. Lemasters says delays that kept some townships' results from being reported until well after midnight were caused in part by the time required to hand-count votes for write-in candidates. "There was a countywide write-in candidate and precinct delegates on the ballot," she said. "There was a big push this year for precinct delegates, and a lot of those were write-ins."

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Sharon Lemasters

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Poll workers had to sort through the paper ballots to find the write-in votes and make sure they were valid candidates -- no Mickey Mouses allowed -- and then tally the votes.

"In big elections like this, especially when we have write-ins, it's just a slower process because workers have to go in and physically find those ballots," said Bedford Township Clerk Trudy Hershberger. "When you're looking at three or four hundred ballots, that takes time."

The other slowdown occurred in some Monroe County precincts, where poll workers were using new electronic poll books to check in voters -- some for the first time.

Workers used laptop computers supplied by the state to look up the names and addresses of voters as they came in to get their ballot. In most cases, voters merely had to swipe their driver's license and their name would come to the top of the screen.

"I can't blame the laptops. They worked very well," said Monroe City Clerk/Treasurer Charles Evans. "We didn't have issues with any of the machines."

Some problems arose, he said, with poll workers unaccustomed to the new equipment or computers in general. "The older some of our workers get, the less computer-savvy they get," Mr. Evans said. "I think we could get 10 or 12-year-olds who would know more about computers."

Ms. Hershberger said the electronic poll books expedited voting in Bedford Township. Workers there had used them during the May school election, which gave them a practice run, she said.

"Our lines were shorter than they've ever been because it was a lot quicker to get through there. You weren't going through lists, looking up names," she said. "It was one swipe and it was all done."

Polls in Michigan were open until 8 p.m. -- 30 minutes later than across the state line in Ohio, which held a special election Tuesday. Just a smattering of school districts and municipalities had tax levies on the ballot in northwest Ohio.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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