By Anne Stanton
TRAVERSE CITY —
Voters are appearing in droves to fill out absentee ballots, local city and township officials report, a good indicator of a robust turnout on election day.
The city of Traverse City reported a historic record high of 2,506 absentee ballots — a 21 percent increase from the last presidential election four years ago.
"We're seeing the most we've ever had," said Traverse City Clerk Benjamin Marentette.
He expects this year's election turnout will surpass the 2004 presidential election, which itself touted an impressive 72 percent turnout of the city's registered voters.
Marentette said the population in Traverse City only increased by 50 people during those four years, so it's a fair comparison. The uptick could be partly attributed to the fact that the city last spring offered senior citizens the chance to automatically receive a mail-in absentee ballot application. Several hundred seniors signed up, he said.
Aside from the high-profile presidential election, area voters have a full slate of candidates and issues to consider, including state Supreme Court races, competitive legislative races, judgeships, school board elections, six state ballot proposals, and two hot local issues — the Division Street improvement question and a proposed .8 millage increase for Traverse City Area Public Schools.
Kalkaska County Clerk Deb Hill said every township clerk there reported an increase in absentee ballots. The uptick prompted them to request more ballots to meet anticipated election day demand.
Hill predicts voters won't be deterred by a forecast that predicts chilly temperatures in the mid-40s, along with rain and snow showers from morning until late evening.
"I hope it won't stop them. Voters need to get out and speak their peace," Hill said.
Absentee ballots are counted on election day. It's possible to walk into a township or city office and fill them out as late as Saturday prior to election day, or even the day before the election if a voter fills the ballot out in the office, said Garfield Township Clerk Kay Schumacher.
Schumacher said she usually has only one or two walk-ins on the Saturday prior to election. On Saturday, though, 25 people appeared to obtain absentee ballots. Schumacher, who worked Sunday to handle the extra work, tallied a record 3,189 ballots absentee ballots, an increase of 8.7% over 2004.
"This is the busiest election I've ever had," Schumacher said. "I'm thinking one of the reasons is the Sandy hurricane. People kept hearing, 'Go vote early, go vote early,' and thought, 'Oh! I should do that.'"
Schumacher isn't as thrilled that voters won't be required to affirm their citizenship in this election, a move that left some insulted and angry voters in the wake of the Aug. 7 primary.
"If you're a citizen, why wouldn't you want to answer that question?" she said.
She also thinks voters ought to be required to show picture identification. Voters are asked to present picture identification prior to voting. If they lack identification, they can still vote by signing an affidavit attesting to their identity.
"You have to show an ID to get a six-pack of beer, so if you want the privilege of voting, why shouldn't you have to show you are who you say you are?" Schumacher said.
Polls will be open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling locations are available at http://webapps.sos.state.mi.us/mivote/. To see a ballot, go to publius.org.