Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum recently spoke at Dexter Rotary’s weekly breakfast and gave some interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses into the election process.
The County Clerk’s office oversees matters involving such vital records such as birth, death, and marriage records along with notary commissions, deeds, land records, election and campaign finance. County Clerk is an elected official and Kestenbaum has held the position for 14 years.
“It’s a great job, but I don’t want to recommend it because I don’t want the competition,” Larry joked.
Larry’s interest in politics extends far beyond his responsibilities as County Clerk. When he is not involved in the political arena for work, he does it for fun. He has a website, politicalgraveyard.com, which is a database of more than 250,000 biographies of American politicians – where they were born, died, the offices they held, etc. He began the website in 1996. “It is highly incomplete,” Larry says, “but very extensive.”
There is tremendous interest in the Nov 6 election. All state and federal legislators for Michigan are up for re-election except for one U.S. Senator, Gary Peters. There are two big statewide proposals about pot legalization and gerrymandering that have garnered a lot of attention. This election has the potential to dramatically change the political landscape of our state.
“This is the first time that we are going to have more than 4 million ballots cast in an off-year election in Michigan,” Larry told the Rotarians. “We have seen in terms of the turnout in the primary, in terms of requests for extra ballots, the number of people running, all the things that drive interest in elections are very high at this time.”
The interest is at an all time high, but a change to voting a straight party ballot could mean longer and slower moving lines at the voting booth.
“We are certainly anticipating a lot of interest and at the same time we also have unique ballot this year in terms of past elections in Michigan,” Larry says. “There will not be is space where you can indicate the choice of a party and have that apply to all the partisan offices. You will have to go through and vote for each office individually. This was a change that was made by the legislature a few years ago.”
“In the past, a third of voters used that option so we are expecting that lines will be longer, he explains. “The process will move a little slower, nothing catastrophic, but I and all the counties across the state are preparing for this. We’re recruiting extra election workers.”
Larry put a plug in for election workers. All precincts are looking for Election Day works. It pays $14/hour. Anyone age 16 or above can be an election worker. It’s a long day, but can be a very interesting and a lot of fun. Anyone interested can contact their local municipality.
Larry went on to explain the complications surrounding the construction of the paper ballot voters use to designate their choices.
“Another aspect of what we have to do action is put the ballot together”, Larry says. “In the November election, basically the trend has been in this state to consolidate more and more elections on even year Novembers. You may have noticed we have school board member elected, Community College board members elected, and so forth.”
One ballot carries all the U.S., state, and local candidates for a variety of open positions as well as local and statewide proposals. The size of this election has made it challenging.
“As we were putting this together we were very concerned as to how we were going to fit everything onto two sides of one piece of paper”, Larry explains. “If there wasn’t enough room, we would have to have a second ballot per voter, which is an administrative nightmare – in terms of having another thing that can be messed up.”
He described having to wrangle with the City of Ann Arbor over a 250-word “caption” that the City Council insisted on putting on the ballot for one of its proposals. The issue finally had to be decided in the courts where it was ruled that 250 words is not a “caption” citing Webster’s Dictionary definition. The proposal wording was reduced and the ballot fit onto a single sheet of paper.
“Here in the City of Dexter you may notice that when you get your ballot, all the candidates are on one side of the ballot and all the proposals on the back “, Larry pointed out. “That’s very tidy but that’s not the way it is in every jurisdiction.”
When asked how many different ballots there were, Larry answered “about 300 in Washtenaw County.” He went on to explain, “It’s because we are electing school board members. For example, Freedom Township has 4 school districts. That’s one precinct with 4 different ballots. There is a precinct in Superior Township that has 5 ballots.”
Stay tuned. The Nov. 6 election is shaping up to be a game-changer for the State of Michigan. Be sure to get your vote in.
Dexter Rotary’s motto is Service Above Self and is dedicated to volunteer and charitable work in and around Dexter. They meet weekly at The Fillmore for breakfast at 7:15 a.m. with a short, informative presentation afterwards. All are welcome.