Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 4, 2010

Voters say they were harassed at polls

Complaints involve GT Area Right to Life activists

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Police responded to two Garfield Township polling precincts on complaints that Grand Traverse Area Right to Life activists were harassing voters and obstructing traffic.

Voters said two men harassed and followed them on Tuesday after they declined to take Right to Life voting guides outside the Grand Traverse County Department of Public Works Building on LaFranier Road.

Election materials distributors must stay 100 feet from the entrance to a polling location.

Garfield Township Clerk Kay Schumacher said voters complained the men would not let up when told "no" and followed voters inside the 100-foot limit.

Schumacher went outside the polling site to speak with the men Tuesday morning. One surprised her by being "antagonistic, mouthy" and rude, she said.

"I told them they had to be polite, and if our voters continued to complain we would send the police out there," Schumacher said. "Usually, the people from Right to Life are very good, very polite. I've never had the problem with the rudeness I had this time."

Complaints continued and a deputy was dispatched, township officials said.

Undersheriff Nathan Alger said deputy Chris Halleck responded at about 9 a.m. and said he didn't observe illegal behavior. He spoke with the activists and left the polling site. The men's names were not recorded.

County Clerk Linda Coburn said she went to the site about 10 a.m. and did not see the men.

Betty Kunkel, political action committee director for Grand Traverse Area Right to Life region, said she was unaware of problems at the DPW building. She said she did not know the activists' identities.

In the early afternoon, authorities responded to a second polling site at First Christian Church on South Airport Road. Kunkel acknowledged a deputy told her she was obstructing traffic.

Kunkel said election officials told one of her volunteers to stop handing out voter guides to cars in the driveway of First Christian Church on West South Airport Road. The volunteer left and Kunkel took her place.

An election worker, in a "very brisk and very unfriendly way," then told her she couldn't stop cars to hand out literature, she said.

"I wasn't stopping cars. If they wanted to stop and take information I gave it to them," she said.

Township Deputy Clerk Don Wilcoxen said election officials received several complaints from voters about traffic backups and he tried to be "very nice," when he asked them to either stop or move back.

When Kunkel didn't follow that request, Coburn called authorities.

A deputy responded around 1 p.m. and said Kunkel was within 20 feet of the road and caused traffic to back up on South Airport Road, Alger said. The deputy asked her to move back from the road.

"I did and it worked out better," Kunkel said.