Human resources

Ottawa County Clerk Seeks More Election Resources

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — With Michigan’s primary election just over a month away, a local county clerk is asking for more funding to improve the election.

“Most municipalities spend more on parking lots than on elections,” Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck told News 8 on Tuesday.

That’s why Roebuck traveled to Washington last week to push for increased campaign funding nationwide. He said election administration only accounts for about 1% of municipal budgets nationwide.

“Not just in Michigan, across the country, election administration has been chronically underfunded,” he said.

After the 2020 election, his office saw a dramatic increase in Freedom of Information Act requests from residents and out-of-state people seeking election materials.

“Transparency is so essential, but we also need to have the resources to be effectively transparent,” he said.

Roebuck said more funding will help ensure there are enough staff to handle these requests.

“It can affect voters’ confidence in the process if an election official isn’t resourced enough to be transparent,” Roebuck said. “For us to operate fairly and transparently, we need the support of our communities and we also need the support of our state and federal government.”

Roebuck explained that Michigan’s decentralized electoral process makes it unique in the United States. Local city and township clerks work with county clerk offices to administer elections.

“In many states, the county runs the election operation from start to finish,” he said. “That’s not the case in Michigan. Michigan has more than 1,200 municipalities across the state.

Roebuck said counties play a critical role in the process.

“We are responsible for a massive amount of candidate filings,” he said. “We are the campaign fundraiser for all county level races and local races. We schedule the ballots. We train election workers. We unofficially accumulate the results on election night. We are responsible for coordinating the certification of the election as well as a post-election audit.

Roebuck’s office has two full-time election workers. He had only one dedicated worker before January, when the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners added another permanent position in his office.

“Managing this with one or two staff members can be a significant challenge,” Roebuck said. “It’s a significant challenge.”

For the Kalamazoo County Clerk’s office, there is only one dedicated full-time election worker, according to Kalamazoo County Clerk Meredith Place. This position was only added in 2019 when the county council added the resources for a full-time position.

Since the 2020 election, Roebuck says there has been a “brain drain” from local election officials on the ground.

“We’ve seen a lot of early retirements,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of people move on to other career options.”

Roebuck said the significant turnover has been with town and city clerks.

“They are the ones who set up constituencies on Election Day,” he said. “They are the ones who deliver the ballots to the voters, the mail ballots before the elections, they have a lot at stake when it comes to the administration of the elections at the local level.”

Place told News 8 that over the past six months she has seen multiple clerk positions open in cities and townships across Kalamazoo County.

Roebuck said if additional funds came from federal, state or local leaders, now was the time.

“Election administration is at the heart of our Democratic process,” he said. “This is the process we use to choose our government. We must adequately fund electoral operations.

As the state gears up for primary elections in August, Roebuck predicted there will be more turnover coming with election workers.

“This is one of the challenges that we will continue to face in election administration, particularly if we do not receive the adequate funding that we ultimately need from the federal state and local level.” , did he declare.

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