Seeking to Avoid More Three-Hour Polling Lines, East Lansing Clerk Promises to Step Up Voter Education Before November

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Thursday, March 12, 2020, 4:08 pm
Chris Gray

Above: East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens helping a voter Tuesday night (photo by Alice Dreger) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (photo from his campaign)

The East Lansing City Clerk is making plans meant to address Tuesday’s election night madness at City Hall, which saw a three-hour line of mostly young voters attempting to register and cast their ballots in the presidential primary.

According to Clerk Jennifer Shuster’s office, there were 177 voters at City Hall on Monday and 572 total voters at City Hall on Election Day. All voters in line by 8 p.m. on Election Day were allowed to register and vote an absentee ballot. That voting wrapped up at 10:45 p.m.

The surge appeared to be driven both by the first big opportunity for same-day registration since Michigan’s Proposal 3 went into effect and by a flood of support from students for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who bested former Vice President Joe Biden in East Lansing by a 52 percent to 39 percent margin. That turned out to be a near-inverse of results statewide, which Biden won.

Shuster said her office experienced a large wave of college students registering to vote and voting absentee starting on Monday as MSU students returned from spring break.

Above: East Lansing Clerk Jennifer Shuster (photo by Gary Caldwell)

“Despite the long line at City Hall, voters – many voting for the very first time – received a positive experience and were vocally grateful,” Shuster said in a statement issued yesterday.

“The issue of long lines was not unique to the City of East Lansing, as other college towns such as Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids reported the same challenges on Election Day,” she said. “I look forward to working with them and those at the local, county and state level for future election efficiency.”

Shuster outlined plans to try to avoid a recurrence in November, when turnout is expected to be even higher in the general election as President Donald Trump seeks a second term. She promised to step up voter education efforts to encourage more people to register online or more than two weeks before Election Day so that their registration does not have to be done in person.

She also said she will encourage residents to vote absentee so that their ballots can be mailed to them, allowing them to avoid heading to polling stations altogether.

On election night, Shuster had the support of Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens who stayed voluntarily through the evening to assist voters.

Stephens’ patience was in contrast to some outside observers including local County Commissioner Mark Grebner, who blasted the Clerk’s handling of the new same-day registration process.

Sanders victory in East Lansing was fueled by big margins in the campus precincts, countering narrower Biden wins in suburban neighborhoods, according to unofficial returns from the Ingham County Clerk.

In the central campus Precinct 12, Sanders took a whopping 85 percent to 13 percent margin over Biden. Biden’s best showing was in Precinct 7, centered in the Whitehills neighborhood, north of Saginaw Street and east of Abbot Road, where he bested Sanders 56 percent to 33 percent.

Overall, voter turnout in East Lansing came to 41 percent, higher in the neighborhoods north of Grand River, and about 30 percent on campus. That represents an unusually high turnout for the campus precincts.

Voters in all East Lansing precincts voted overwhelmingly for all the local tax measures on the ballot, as well as for an authorization for City Council to sell 0.3 acres of public property at the corner of Abbot Road and Albert Avenue to Michigan State University Federal Credit Union for a new office building. The land sale proposal passed with 69 percent approval citywide.

The differences in support for the various measures was one of degree. The MSUFCU sale was approved by 74 percent of voters in Precinct 3, which roughly conforms to the south Glencairn and Oakwood neighborhood. Students were somewhat less supportive of the sale – with only 62 percent voting in favor of the sale in Precinct 12 and 59 percent in Precinct 13.

On the other hand, while Precinct 3 supported the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) millage renewal with 82 percent of the vote, the campus Precinct 12 gave it 92 percent support.

About 35 percent of city voters (3,826 total) cast their ballots absentee, and despite several major Democratic candidates dropping out in the weeks before the March 10 election, only 394 sought to spoil or redo their ballots. Among those, 145 ballots were redone due to a ballot error in Precinct 17, which lies in Clinton County.


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