Absentee ballot delays causing concern

MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP, Mi. (WILX) - On Valentine's Day, a Meridian Township deputy clerk posted a photo on social media showing more than 5,000 absentee ballots being delivered to the post office. Michigan Election Law requires clerks to immediately issue absentee voter ballots upon application and make them available within 40 days of the election.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum says the delay has led to low ballot return numbers compared to everyone else in the county.

"Our election, the March 10 presidential election, is in less than three weeks. People have left. People are working. They need those ballots mailed to them so that they can have an opportunity to mail them back if necessary or drop them off at the clerk's office," said Byrum. "We are already hearing stories of people who are worried they're not going to get their ballot because they have already jumped on a plane for vacation. There already are delays. The question is - will there be further delays."

Byrum wants Meridian Township Clerk Brett Dreyfus to be held accountable for not following the law.

"This is not an uncommon challenge that Meridian Township clerks office has had. You can go back eight years and there's always been at least one challenge with Meridian Township clerks office," said Byrum. "There is an impact to our voters and it is unacceptable to our voters. It is high time that the clerk is held accountable."

But Dreyfus is blaming the delay on trying to comply with another state guideline, testing the ballots before sending them out. He says he did not receive the technology from the county in time.

"We were waiting for these chips, these flash drives in order to move forward and finally we had to make a decision and a decision was made to mail them out and basically in a 30 day rather than a 40 day period," said Dreyfus.

Byrum says that is just another excuse and that guideline has not been followed for years.

Dreyfus says as of Thursday, the township sent out 6,113 absentee ballots and 350 were returned. He added that they are all caught up and everyone who requested a ballot received one.

However, News 10 talked to an administrative assistant who said they have gotten calls all week from voters who had not received theirs.

"The residents don't really see this as an issue. Because most of the residents recognize that the ballots have always been delivered in a timely matter. We've had probably less than a dozen people write and send an email. Those are people who sent in their applications for a ballot usually like the third week in January, so they were the first ones to respond. So we do get that even when we mail the ballots out in a 40 day period," said Dreyfus.

Dreyfus says there is a bigger issue with state election rules and regulations.

"The real issue here is there seems to be a loophole in state law that there's no deadline for county clerks to provide programming that allows the local municipalities to test their equipment and get the ballots out in conformity with state law," said Dreyfus. "Many municipalities choose to mail them out and not have them tested. If there was a problem with the ballot they'd all have to be duplicated the night of the and that would cause huge problems and cause results to be delayed until the next day. That is not acceptable by many people's standards of how an election should be tabulated," explained Dreyfus.

The Secretary of State's office tells News 10 there is no clear cut formula on which process to complete first. They advise clerks on a case by case basis.

However, they say the bulk of ballots should be tested before they are sent out and that voters have a right to receive their ballots within 40 days of the election.

Absentee ballot requests have to be sent out within 24 hours after it is requested.

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