Election produces large turnout in Alpena County
Small snafus reported amid large numbers of voters
ALPENA — Voter turnout in Alpena County for Tuesday’s midterm election was impressive, but, because of the number of voters, there were a few bug-a-boos that delayed a portion of absentee ballots from being tallied until the early morning hours Wednesday.
Local municipalities were prepared for the long lines that formed shortly after polling stations opened at 7 a.m.
According to Alpena County Clerk Bonnie Friedrichs, voter turnout rivaled the presidential election in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected. Tuesday’s turnout handily bested the last midterm election, in 2014.
In Alpena County there were a total of 13,309 ballots cast, which equated to a whopping 53.14 percent of the electorate. By comparison, only 43.39 percent of the county’s voters went to the polls in 2014. But Tuesday’s number was only a few percentage points off from the 59.26 percent who cast ballots in 2016.
Turnout was so high, some municipalities began to run low on ballots.
Friedrichs said Welling Township got down to only 15 ballots, but was able to make it until the polls closed at 8 p.m. She said the county, townships and the city did their best in advance to prepare for the large turnout, but, even with the planning, there were some minor issues.
Friedrichs said election workers are still getting used to new technology that was introduced during the August primary election. A tabulator used for counting absentee voters broke down Tuesday night in Alpena Township and needed to be replaced, which slowed the counting process. Because of that, absentee totals from the township weren’t forwarded to the county until about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Friedrichs said.
“We knew the turnout was going to be large from the amount of absentee ballots we were receiving,” she said. “The workers still aren’t 100-percent comfortable with the new machines and are still getting used to them.”
Friedrichs said there was also some confusion among voters who wanted to vote Tuesday but hadn’t taken the necessary steps beforehand, and that also caused some confusion and slight delays.
“We had a number of people who thought they were registered to vote that weren’t, so we had a lot of people we were trying to help and track to see if and where they were registered,” Friedrichs said. “There were some people who were registered downstate and just thought they could vote here. We just need a little more voter education and more voter responsibility to make sure they are registered.”
In Alpena Township, there were 4,427 voters from the five precincts, which accounted for 59.37 percent of the electorate. In Alpena, there were 4,426 ballots cast, 55.30 percent of registered voters in the five precincts.
Alpena Clerk/Treasurer Anna Soik said things went smoothly at the polls and, thanks to additional help, absentee ballots were able to be counted quicker than in years past. She said the city used to have a absentee ballot voting board, which would count votes. It was not used for a handful of years but, because of the growing popularity of the absentee voting, city staff and the Alpena Municipal Council decided to use it again. Soik said that, if it wasn’t for those extra hands, it would have taken much longer to tabulate ballots.
She said the votes were all counted by about 10 p.m.
“We had them in the basement and all they did was do the absentee ballots, and it really helped make the process go much smoother,” Soik said. “There would be no way that we could process that many ballots and still get out at a decent hour.”
The Alpena County Board of Canvassers convened Wednesday afternoon to review and sign off on the vote total. It appears there will not be any recounts or challenges, because most of the local races were not close.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 989-358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.
A look at the share of registered voters who cast ballots in each election:
Tuesday: 53.14 percent
Source: Alpena County clerk