With a scant six days left until the Tuesday, Feb. 28 Michigan presidential primary election, it’s important for voters in west Oakland County — and, of course, across the Wolverine State — to remember some of the intricacies of this year’s process for selecting a Republican presidential nominee in order to make the process run as smoothly and with as few hiccups as possible.
This year, much as in 2008 — when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (39 percent), a Republican, and then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (55 percent), a Democrat, finished at the top of their respective Michigan presidential primaries — the primary process will be closed, meaning that voters across west Oakland County and the state have to declare whether they want the Democratic or Republican ballot when they go to the polls on Feb. 28, or when applying for an absentee ballot. That’s not the same thing as registering as a member of that particular political party, but the record of which political party’s ballot the voter selects will be a matter of public record for a period of 22 months, according to Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Bill Bullard Jr.
And although the electorate went through largely the same process four years ago, some local and county officials have said they’ve experienced some confusion and backlash from voters who have given them grief over a process which area elections officials had no role in determining. Those interested in directing their ire somewhere should focus their eyes on Lansing, where state lawmakers last year approved the closed primary process.
Long story short? Give local clerks and elections workers some slack. They didn’t have anything to do with making the primary closed this year, and they will merely be doing their jobs in less than a week when you line up to cast your ballot for your preferred presidential candidate on the ballot of the party that you select.
Bullard said last month that just the name of Tuesday’s contest — a “primary election” — is throwing people off-base when it comes to the voting process. He said that the name leads people to believe that electors can go into a voting booth, look at both political sides of the ballot, and make a decision on the candidate who will best represent their beliefs. But that is not the case.
In terms of options for voters in west Oakland County’s 11 cities, villages, and townships, you’ll be facing only one choice: Who should be the Republican presidential nominee? According to the official candidate list from the Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Elections Division, 11 Republican candidates — including those who have suspended their presidential campaigns or have formally withdrawn from the race — will be on the ticket, as well as President Barack Obama, the lone Democrat in that contest, although there is an option to vote “uncommitted.”
Voters in Oakland County will also have to weigh in on who will succeed former state Rep. Tim Melton, who left office last year to take a new job out of state and whose 29th state House District is outside of the lakes area — it includes Pontiac and Auburn Hills. In addition, Clawson and the Village of Franklin have millage proposals on the ballot, and Pontiac is asking its residents to decide on a city charter amendment. Ferndale Public Schools has a building and site sinking fund proposal it’s asking district residents to consider.
So the local electorate should have only two focuses — picking their preferred presidential candidate for the November general election, and making sure they abide by the rules set forth for Tuesday’s primary election. Doing so will only make your time spent at your precinct go more smoothly.
Voters flubbing up their absentee ballot applications, according to Bullard, has been an issue, but it becomes even more problematic when it happens at the actual polls. If that occurs, votes are spoiled. At the very least, that results in more headaches for elections workers and those waiting to cast their ballots.
Like it or not, rules are rules. Clerks of local cities and townships didn’t make them, nor did the election workers in those communities who will be toiling throughout the day at hundreds of precincts across Oakland County on Tuesday. If you’re disgruntled about picking a political party’s ballot, voice your opposition with the people who actually made the decision to institute those rules, not the ones who are enforcing them. And regardless of which horse you’re backing in the presidential primary race, voters need to remain cognizant of the requirements for casting their ballots less than a week from now. Being aware of — and abiding by — those rules will ensure a smooth, accurate, and as hassle-free as possible experience at the polls.
Questions about the process can be answered by calling the Oakland County Elections Division at 248-858-0564, your local clerk, or the Michigan Department of State at 517-373-2540.