Ferndale City Clerk Working to Improve Precinct Efficiency
City Clerk Cherilynn Tallman says she will ask council, city management for re-evaluation of consolidated voting precincts.
While residents were digesting election results on Wednesday, Ferndale City Clerk Cherilynn Tallman and her staff were already at work evaluating ways to make the voting process more efficient next time.
"I hate that voters had to wait so long. I know that it was a tremendous hardship for a lot of people," Tallman said Wednesday. "I feel for those who simply couldn't wait, so we're going to do our part to make it easier for our residents to exercise their right to vote next time."
Election Day turnout in Ferndale was just under 64 percent this year - almost exactly the same as the 2008 turnout, Tallman said. A total of 10,399 ballots were cast.
"I had expected it to be a little higher actually but I'm still pleased with those numbers," she said. "It shows a lot of very committed, dedicated numbers to brave those lines and stay the course so I give our voters a lot of credit for being that committed to exercising their right."
How to improve
Tallman said Election Day went pretty well overall but there are areas for improvement.
"We've already been doing the Monday quarterbacking," she said. "We've already got a long list of ideas of things we can do to continue to improve the process, to address some of the problems that happened and to do our best to make things go even better next time."
Tallman said lines at UHS weren't much longer than some other precincts but said efficiency can be increased.
"The problem everywhere was how much time it takes to process a voter through all the state-mandated steps," she said, describing an "intense" system of checks and balances. "Definitely I think there are things we can do to make that go faster."
The machines were working well, Tallman said, and she noted that some voting booths were added at certain locations later in the day in response to feedback from residents and elected officials.
"It just comes down to process and every little hiccup unfortunately backs the line up. There are always going to be hiccups when you have such large turnout," she said.
One issue the clerk's office will evaluate is how well the process is running in each precinct, how comfortable workers are with the computer system and how many problems they experience.
"How can we get every precinct to work at optimum efficiency? That is our goal. That is our dream," she said.
Fewer polling locations
Late last year, Ferndale City Council approved a measure to shrink the city's voting precincts from nine to seven. The changes went into effect for the Aug. 7 primary.
The plan was the result of 2010 U.S. Census figures, which reported that Ferndale had lost 2,005 residents, and in conjunction with the state and county redistricting processes.
Under Michigan election law, each precinct is set with a maximum number of 2,999 registered voters. With the reduction in polling locations, the city was still under the limit at 2,300 voters per precinct.
But it may be time to re-evaluate the change, Tallman said Wednesday.
"Absolutely I think that consolidating precincts added to the lines. That's one of these things that I think merits a conversation about whether that's something that's working or not working," she said. "That's one that I plan to [initiate] with council and the city manager."
Tallman said it may be a matter of weighing the extra expense even in the smaller, intervening elections, with the importance of customer service.
"It's a conversation worth having," she said.
More election workers
Having more inspectors in each precinct is one possible solution. On Tuesday, three of the city's scheduled election workers were unable to work due to reasons out of their control, and workers had to be shifted to different locations.
"Getting quality inspectors who can handle the frantic pace of the day and stamina of a 16- to 20-hour day and the willingness to do it for virtually minimum wage remains to be the biggest challenge of most municipal clerks throughout the state," Tallman said. "If [the city] had had nine precincts they wouldn't have been well staffed."
The clerk's office had two residents on Monday offer to serve as election workers, Tallman said, but they had to be turned away due to state election law.
"Unfortunately Michigan election law says you cannot appoint an inspector less than four days prior to scheduled training. Although it kills me to turn away willing volunteers there's still time constraints that we have to live within," she said. "If we could get more people willing to put in the time that would be wonderful."
Tallman said she was proud of the inspectors for their hard work on Tuesday.
"I'm very proud of all our inspectors - they really did a tremendous job yesterday under tremendous stress and pressure," she said. "I give them a lot of credit."
She also praised voters for their patience. "Our voters overall were very positive and patient and supportive," she said, adding that positive comments far outweighed the negative. But, she said, "We would like to see zero complaints."