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Ferndale City Clerk Working to Improve Precinct Efficiency

City Clerk Cherilynn Tallman says she will ask council, city management for re-evaluation of consolidated voting precincts.

While residents were digesting election results on Wednesday, Ferndale City Clerk Cherilynn Tallman and her staff were already at work evaluating ways to make the voting process more efficient next time.

On Tuesday, residents reported varying wait times at the polls with voters at certain locations including University High School waiting more than two hours even during non-peak times.

"I hate that voters had to wait so long. I know that it was a tremendous hardship for a lot of people," Tallman said Wednesday. "I feel for those who simply couldn't wait, so we're going to do our part to make it easier for our residents to exercise their right to vote next time."

Voter turnout

Election Day turnout in Ferndale was just under 64 percent this year - almost exactly the same as the 2008 turnout, Tallman said. A total of 10,399 ballots were cast.

"I had expected it to be a little higher actually but I'm still pleased with those numbers," she said. "It shows a lot of very committed, dedicated numbers to brave those lines and stay the course so I give our voters a lot of credit for being that committed to exercising their right."

How to improve

Tallman said Election Day went pretty well overall but there are areas for improvement.

"We've already been doing the Monday quarterbacking," she said. "We've already got a long list of ideas of things we can do to continue to improve the process, to address some of the problems that happened and to do our best to make things go even better next time."

Tallman said lines at UHS weren't much longer than some other precincts but said efficiency can be increased.

"The problem everywhere was how much time it takes to process a voter through all the state-mandated steps," she said, describing an "intense" system of checks and balances. "Definitely I think there are things we can do to make that go faster."

The machines were working well, Tallman said, and she noted that some voting booths were added at certain locations later in the day in response to feedback from residents and elected officials.

"It just comes down to process and every little hiccup unfortunately backs the line up. There are always going to be hiccups when you have such large turnout," she said.

One issue the clerk's office will evaluate is how well the process is running in each precinct, how comfortable workers are with the computer system and how many problems they experience.

"How can we get every precinct to work at optimum efficiency? That is our goal. That is our dream," she said.

Fewer polling locations

Late last year, Ferndale City Council approved a measure to shrink the city's voting precincts from nine to seven. The changes went into effect for the Aug. 7 primary.

The plan was the result of , and in conjunction with the state and county redistricting processes.

Under Michigan election law, each precinct is set with a maximum number of 2,999 registered voters. With the reduction in polling locations, the city was still under the limit at 2,300 voters per precinct.

But it may be time to re-evaluate the change, Tallman said Wednesday.

"Absolutely I think that consolidating precincts added to the lines. That's one of these things that I think merits a conversation about whether that's something that's working or not working," she said. "That's one that I plan to [initiate] with council and the city manager."

Tallman said it may be a matter of weighing the extra expense even in the smaller, intervening elections, with the importance of customer service.

"It's a conversation worth having," she said.

More election workers

Having more inspectors in each precinct is one possible solution. On Tuesday, three of the city's scheduled election workers were unable to work due to reasons out of their control, and workers had to be shifted to different locations.

"Getting quality inspectors who can handle the frantic pace of the day and stamina of a 16- to 20-hour day and the willingness to do it for virtually minimum wage remains to be the biggest challenge of most municipal clerks throughout the state," Tallman said. "If [the city] had had nine precincts they wouldn't have been well staffed."

The clerk's office had two residents on Monday offer to serve as election workers, Tallman said, but they had to be turned away due to state election law.

"Unfortunately Michigan election law says you cannot appoint an inspector less than four days prior to scheduled training. Although it kills me to turn away willing volunteers there's still time constraints that we have to live within," she said. "If we could get more people willing to put in the time that would be wonderful."

Tallman said she was proud of the inspectors for their hard work on Tuesday.

"I'm very proud of all our inspectors - they really did a tremendous job yesterday under tremendous stress and pressure," she said. "I give them a lot of credit."

She also praised voters for their patience. "Our voters overall were very positive and patient and supportive," she said, adding that positive comments far outweighed the negative. But, she said, "We would like to see zero complaints."

Erik Roberts November 09, 2012 at 12:26 AM
I for one actually had a nice time voting. Yeah, it was a long wait 2 hours and 10 minutes at Taft. BUT, it was good to interact with community neighbors. Everyone in our "neck of the line" were in good moods. The good humors within those hallways definitely made it more tolerable. It made me proud to be a Ferndalian!
Ferndale_1986 November 09, 2012 at 12:37 AM
@Jennifer Howard that's cheating the system in my opinion and i will not do that.
Jennifer Howard November 12, 2012 at 01:33 PM
@Ferndale_1986, While you are technically correct, it is the only way to circumvent going to a physical polling location. However, for those that choose to go to any polling location on election day, especially for a presidential election, will most likely encounter and should therefore anticipate some sort of wait time - and in a perfect world, not complain about it. Each precinct has a maximum of 2,999 registered voters, when you combine precincts into a single polling location, that number can skyrocket.
FerndaleFan November 13, 2012 at 04:53 PM
@Ferndale_1986, if you think you have all the answers then you should be the first in line to sign up as an election worker. To sit back and find everything wrong while doing nothing just creates more problems.
FerndaleFan November 13, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I am appreciative of election workers, especially the seniors citizens who are the majority doing the job. While there is always room for improvement, the long lines were due to a ballot heavy on state and local proposals plus many undecided voters who were not prepared on how to cast their votes. Therefore, having ten or twenty voter privacy boxes does not guarantee a faster outcome as one might assume. As for the precinct downsizing, this was required by the state due to redistricting and not the fault of any local city official or the city clerk. The voter must take "personal responsibility". The election process is a civic duty, not Starbucks.

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