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Schoolcraft township clerk explains absentee voting

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe and Bob Ball

Schoolcraft Township Clerk Virginia Mongrieg has seen some changes in her 21 years working elections for Schoolcraft Township: Different types of ballots have come and gone, and most recently, Michigan voters approved the use of absentee ballots for all registered voters. The township has since seen an increase in the number of people voting through absentee ballot.

There are 6,890 registered voters in Schoolcraft Township and approximately 2,500 absentee ballot applications have recently been mailed. In the 2020 election 5,157 eligible voters voted. The township includes the village of Schoolcraft and a portion of Vicksburg.

Mongrieg and Deputy Clerk Eska Brown follow a careful protocol during the elections. Mongrieg explained the absentee voting process during a visit to the township hall.

First, the township mails absentee ballot applications to all voters who have requested one. When these applications are returned, they are opened and signatures are carefully checked, comparing the ballot signature to a voter’s digitally-stored signature.

Brown and Mongrieg demonstrated this with copy editor Bob Ball’s absentee ballot application.

Signature Verification:

For each application returned and verified, a ballot envelope is placed and stored in the vault, a locked and secure location within the office. Once ballots are received, voters place and seal them in these envelopes and mail to the township.

When ballots are returned — through the mail, hand delivered, or placed in the township’s dropbox—they are counted and stored again in the vault. Brown and Mongrieg run regular audits before election day, counting and verifying the number of received ballots.

Absentee Ballot Counting on election day:

Before election day, precinct election inspectors attend training. All are approved and certified.
A board of trained and approved precinct election inspectors work in a conference room with a chairperson directing and guiding them. The team includes both registered Republicans and Democrats who work together at all times.

Inspectors complete the following steps:

• Slit open all ballots

• Verify ballots with a qualified voter file list issued by Brown.

• Pass ballots to an inspector who ensures ballot has no damage or wrinkles and will pass through the tabulator.

• Ballots are stacked in piles of 25 and kept flat.

• Two Inspectors then begin feeding ballots.

In the event a ballot will not tabulate, the ballots are set aside for voiding and reissuing. That may happen if a voter uses a marker-type pen or crosses party lines, voting for a Republican for one post and a Democrat for another. But there are many other reasons.

Mongrieg’s recommendations for voters:

Fill in the ovals with a ball point pen, staying within the ovals.

Do not draw lines or use x’s.

If you realize you have made a mistake, Mongreig said, don’t ignore it or try to correct it. “We can help you! Just call or bring the ballot to the Township as soon as possible.  We will ‘spoil’ your ballot and reissue. 

“And please do not sign your family members’ ballots!” Such false signatures are usually caught, invalidating the ballot, she said.

“If you change your mind and would like to vote in person in the precinct, you must surrender your absentee ballot. We must be able to account for every ballot issued, so please return your unvoted ballot.”

New Voter I.D. Cards

Because of redistricting, new voter I.D. cards are being issued. They will be mailed to each registered voter.

Mongrieg is confident about voter security in her precinct. “We are highly trained, have proven protocols in place and are committed to ensuring honesty and integrity in every election.”

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