09/16/13 — Voting prep: Ready for rule change

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Voting prep: Ready for rule change

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 16, 2013 1:46 PM

Nearly 52,000 people voted in Wayne County during the 2012 election -- 35,000 did so at one-stop voting sites.

However, changes are in store for the popular one-stop option, even though the state has yet to fully explain some of the new rules that will become effective next year.

But for the Wayne County Board of Elections, the more immediate concern is the municipal and sanitary district elections that are less than two months away.

"One stop (this year) will be as it always has been," county Board of Elections Director Rosemary Blizzard said. "It will be here in the office from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting Oct. 17. It will run through Nov. 2. We do not plan to be open Saturdays or Sundays."

Beginning in 2014, instead of being able to start one-stop voting on the third Thursday prior to an election, it cannot start until the second Thursday before an election.

"For example, this year we will start on the 17th (of October)," she said. "The board has to observe the start date that is a week later by the calendar, but from that start date to the last day the law allows one-stop voting, the board will then start looking at hours and matching it to what was done previously. We can decide that this election might be a little popular so let's add another site or add another hour each day or whatever."

If meeting that minimum requires a Saturday or a Sunday, then that might be something the board might look at, she said.

"I can't speak for them," Mrs. Blizzard said. "I have not talked to them and don't know how they feel about it. It (new law) didn't restrict the number of days, it just changed the start date.

"It is still required that offices be open until 1 p.m. on the Saturday prior to the election. We will be open that Saturday from 9 until 1 until we are told different."

The new law still means that boards of elections across the state are going to have to do more in less time, she said.

""What we are going to do is that we are going to take a very long, hard long look at the (voting) sites that we had, see if maybe we could geographically position sites better to serve the people," Mrs. Blizzard said. "The law says we have to operate the same number of hours that we operated in 2010 for 2014. I did look at the 2010 hours and it looks like there was only one site at the Board of Elections office and there were no hours beyond the regular business hours -- Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the legally required Saturday before the election. I know that in 2012, we were open 337 hours. So 2010 matches 2014 and 2012 will match 2016. There is a lot of debate as to how to figure those hours."

That debate surrounds whether that time is just the additional sites or if it includes voting at the Board of Elections office, she said.

The 337 hours included the library site, which was in lieu of the Board of Elections office site, she said.

"So there is debate, if you include those hours along with the other sites," Mrs. Blizzard said. "The state will look at the local plan and assist in determining the number of hours that must be met."

Mrs. Blizzard said that regardless of the number of days open, she and her staff want to ensure election space and workers are used more efficiently. The office "did the best it could" in 2012, but Mrs. Blizzard said she saw room for some improvement such as how rooms are organized to move voters through more efficiently.

"Those were things that we were going to do regardless," she said. "Certainly now it is going to be even more important knowing that we are using 10 days versus 17."

There is no law prohibiting weekend voting, but that becomes the (local) board's decision whether it wants to be open on a Saturday or Sunday, she said. The board has not discussed the 2014 one-stop schedule, but that will probably be the first order of business after the November election, Mrs. Blizzard said.

Absentee ballot changes will take effect in 2014 as well. About 2,000 voted by absentee ballot in the county last year.

"My understanding is that we will be changing our envelopes," Mrs. Blizzard said. "In the past, you only had to have one signature as a witness. You will now have to have two."

The voter also has the option of having the absentee ballot notarized, she said.

"I believe you will have to provide the absentee application, which up to this point you had to come up here and get, or request it in writing for me to send you one," she said. "Now you will be able to get it on our website. You will have to provide your driver's license and/or the last four digits of your Social Security number."

She advised voters to pick up their ballots early -- just in case there is a problem with identification.

"If you request your absentee ballot in September, we will have plenty of time to fix any problems that may come up. If you request it at the end of October, now you have cut your time almost to nothing in order to get the information that you need. That is why I can't say it enough, let's start looking at the records now."

One aspect of the changes that will affect the county this year is the elimination of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, Mrs. Blizzard said.

"You are still allowed, if you will be 18 by the November election, to register and participate in the primary," she said. "That has not gone away.

"There was a program that I think was mostly run through DMV, when they went in to get their driver's permit or driver's license at 16, they could register at 16. We would kind of hold that registration until they reached the age it could be processed. That has now stopped as of Sept. 1."