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Ottawa County voter engagement near ‘presidential levels’

Alexander Sinn • Oct 18, 2018 at 2:00 PM

For the past two weeks, Ottawa County Elections Coordinator Steven Daitch and county staff have been making the rounds to ensure polling locations are set for the Nov. 6 election.

County officials say they are expecting a large turnout for the midterm elections.

Since August, 6,988 people have registered to vote countywide. For the 2016 presidential election, 9,400 people registered between Aug. 1 and Dec. 1.

“A lot of registrations are still being processed,” Daitch said. “I would expect the current number to go up quite a bit, at least approaching presidential levels of engagement in terms of voters registered.”

Absentee ballot requests are also reaching presidential election levels, he said. The county has so far issued 25,931 absentee ballots. In 2016, 34,300 were returned for that year’s November election.

Absentee ballots are available for anyone age 60 or older, and for those who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day, such as out-of-town college students.

College students can often benefit from an absentee ballot, Daitch said, but it can be difficult to apply. County officials helped Grand Valley State University students apply on campus and 340 signed up in one day, while 360 applied for absentee ballots.

The deadline for registration for next month’s elections was Oct. 8.

The final day to request a mailed absentee ballot is Nov. 3, the Saturday before the election. County and local offices are typically open until 2 p.m. on Saturdays, Daitch noted.

The final day to apply for an absentee ballot and vote in the clerk’s office is Monday, Nov. 5, before 4 p.m. They can be submitted in person with regular ballots on Election Day.

For those who plan to cast a ballot at the polling station and haven’t voted since November 2016 or earlier, the voting machines have some new features.

These machines feature full-color screens that, once you feed it your ballot, thank you for voting and display an American flag. The systems are also capable of detecting ballot errors immediately, so if a voter has selected too many candidates or anything else that may spoil a ballot, they can request a new one, Daitch said. Voters may leave blank any proposals or candidates, he added.

This is the fourth election in which the new machines have been in use statewide.

“From a voter’s perspective, it works pretty much the same way as our older system,” Daitch said. “Voters can vote as much or as little on the ballot as they like.”

The busiest time to vote is at 7 a.m. when polls open, Daitch said, and lines are to be expected at many locations. The best times to vote are between 9 a.m. and noon and from 1-5 p.m.

Polls close at 8 p.m.

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