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Voters spoil early ballots as Alpena-area clerks ready for absentee boom

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Township Clerk Michele Palevich empties absentee ballots from a secure dropbox at the township office building on Monday. Palevich said ballots are still rolling in and there has been a slight increase in the number of people changing their votes and spoiling early ballots.

ALPENA — In the last several weeks, dozens of Alpena-area voters who’ve already sent in absentee ballots have chosen to change their votes, clerks said.

So far, Alpena Township has received nearly 3,000 absentee ballots, 40 of which have been spoiled so voters could fill out a new ballot, township Clerk Michele Palevich said.

She said that is the most spoiled ballots she’s seen during an election, and she believes there could be more in the next week before the Nov. 3 vote as the political landscape changes and headlines report last-minute October surprises.

Alpena Clerk/Treasurer Anna Soik said the city has spoiled 22 of the 2,055 absentee ballots that have been returned so far. Rogers City Clerk Terri Koss said fewer than 10 ballots had been spoiled as of Monday.

Voters who want to change their vote have until 10 a.m. Nov. 2 to do so.

Clerks across Michigan have seen record absentee turnout this year, both because state law now allows all voters to vote absentee — the option was previously limited to voters who couldn’t make it to the polls on Election Day because they were out of town, elderly, or disabled — and because leery voters want to avoid crowded polling places amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The absentee boom has some clerks expecting Michigan’s results won’t be available until late next week, but both Palevich and Soik expect local results to be wrapped up late Nov. 3 or in the early morning hours of the following day, because each municipality has a pair of absentee boards who tally the those ballots and two tabulators dedicated to counting absentee ballots.

Palevich said absentee voters who want to change their mind need only to come to the township office, sign some documentation, and they’ll get a new ballot while their original one is destroyed. She said there is no way both ballots will be counted.

It’s not possible, the clerks said, to determine which races or ballot proposals have voters changing their minds.

“Some people are confused about the straight-party voting, and think they may have done something wrong,” she said. “Most of the people say they made a mistake voting and just want to vote for a different candidate. That’s the majority.”

Soik said it would be difficult for her office to meet the demand if large numbers of voters wanted to change their minds, especially when the election is as near as it is and staff is already busy handling ballots arriving normally.

“If it just happened all of a sudden, it would create a lot of work and stress on the office,” she said. “It would also raise concerns about whether we have enough ballots to issue new ones to a lot of people.”

Soik said Alpena County Clerk Bonnie Friedrichs orders enough ballots to serve 80% of registered voters. A turnout of 80% for any election is unlikely, even one as hotly contested as the presidential contest this year.

Local clerks can’t begin counting absentee ballots until 8 a.m. Election Day, though the Legislature has allowed larger cities to begin processing — but not counting — absentee ballots earlier.

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