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4 early voting polling places coming to Ottawa County next year

2023-09-28
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OTTAWA COUNTY, MI - Ottawa County residents will be able to vote up to nine days early in state and federal elections next year at one of four polling centers around the county. The exact locations of those early voting polling places are still being worked out. County and local clerks in the coming weeks will broadcast full details of the plan to ensure voters are aware of their options to participate in early voting. Initial information indicates the early voting centers will be spaced out throughout the county, most likely in Holland Township, Allendale, Grand Haven and the Spring Lake area north of the bridge. The countywide early voting plan, which includes participation from all 23 local governments in the county, will move forward after the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved participating in the plan on Tuesday, Sept. 26. Leaders of the ultra-conservative majority Ottawa County board received a copy of the plan in early August but didn't begin publicly deliberating participation until early-to-mid September. The measure was taken off consideration at the board's Sept. 12 meeting so board leadership could propose possible changes to the plan that had already been approved by a majority of local cities and township. RELATED: 5 things to know about the stalled early voting plan in Ottawa County That pause raised concerns from local clerks about their ability to meet the state's Sept. 31 deadline to submit their individual early voting plans to the county clerk. The local clerks had been working with Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck for about a year on the joint plan. Proposals from board leadership included livestreaming ballot boxes and early voting locations and requiring the use of watermarked ballots at the early voting centers. Only the use of watermarked ballots, which Roebuck said provides a quick identifier to voters that their ballot is legitimate, made it into the plan. Early voting isn't unique to Ottawa County. It stems from a statewide ballot proposal approved by Michigan voters in 2022. "Proposal 22-2 significantly changes the options available to our voters, and our goal is to ensure integrity in the process while we look for the most cost-efficient ways to provide these new services to our customers," Roebuck said. "Early voting will be a great option for our voters, and we are so excited to work collaboratively with all of our municipal clerks to ensure a smooth and secure process for them." Under the state law that followed the proposal, local clerks are required to administer at least nine days of early voting leading up to a state and federal election. This nine-day period includes two Sundays. Residents who choose to vote on the day of an election will still vote at their regular polling place. Local clerks can fulfill those early voting requirements by doing it themselves, working with other local governments or working with other local governments and the county clerk. In Ottawa County, all 23 local governments decided to work together and with the county clerk. Under the early voting plan, clerks in all of Ottawa County's cities and townships will band together to share the costs of running, staffing and overseeing four polling locations around the county for nine days of early voting leading up to the state and federal elections next year. Allendale Township Clerk Jody Hansen said the countywide plan is a cost effective way to meet the state's early voting requirement. It also provides convenience for voters and a secure election process, she said. "Partnering together provides countywide continuity, enhances voting convenience, reinforces the sanctity that our clerks place on the integrity of elections, and provides incredible financial savings for all Ottawa County voters," Hansen said. The two-year, $769,094 price tag for the early voting plan will be split by the county and local governments, with the county's share of that cost being $309,625. Officials estimate the state may provide an additional $250,000 to help with election equipment purchases and labor costs. The agreement approved by the board Tuesday includes an addendum that stipulates the early-voting polling places will use watermarked ballots and have a surveillance camera watching over the secured rooms where elections equipment and materials are stored. The county will also purchase and provide a line-management tool that will let the public know what the projected wait times are for each of the early-voting polling places. The addendum doesn't include any provisions around livestreaming the polling places or ballot boxes. Roebuck said local clerks raised concerns about privacy and potential intimidation issues with the proposal to livestream the early-voting polling places. The wait time projection tool stemmed from those conversations. Ottawa Impact commissioners hold closed door meetings, may be violating law Ottawa County leaders pass $264M budget with some cuts to public health

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