What to know before heading to the polls

Alexander Sinn • Aug 2, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Voters in the city of Grand Haven will have a lot of options at the polls Tuesday, Aug. 6, including the ability to register to vote.

Following the passage of Proposition 3 in Michigan last November, same-day registration is available while polls are open, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Grand Haven City Clerk’s Office at 519 Washington Ave. will also be open Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., for voter registration. Voters will be able to fill out an absentee ballot or pick up a receipt to bring to the polls Tuesday.

All Michigan voters are now eligible for absentee ballots, and do not need to cite specific reasons for choosing to vote early.

These statewide changes made a small dent in the May election, with 22 Ottawa County residents registering in the two weeks prior to the election, according to County Clerk Justin Roebuck. Eleven of those voters signed up on Election Day.

Many of the voters taking advantage of same-day registration are young and first-time voters, Roebuck said. Of the 400 voters statewide who registered on Election Day in May, half were ages 18-20. In Ottawa County, nine of 11 same-day registrations were in that age group.

“What that tells me is there are brand-new voters who haven’t been impacted by the Secretary of State branch office yet,” Roebuck said.

The county is encouraging pre-registration for 16-year-olds receiving their first driver’s license, which automatically registers them when they become voter eligible at age 18.

While registration has become more streamlined, voter turnout is typically low for local primaries. The participation in “small” elections typically ranges from 10-15 percent. May’s election in Ottawa County saw about 13 percent turnout from voters, with about 60 percent of precincts reporting votes.

In Grand Haven’s 2017 mayoral primary, 1,431 voters cast ballots.

“What’s important for people to realize is that in those small elections, that’s where every individual is counting a great deal,” Roebuck said. “The impact a citizen can have in a small election is a big deal.”

While citizens will not be voting Republican or Democrat on Tuesday, straight-ticket voting was restored with Proposition 3. Last November was the only election without this party line option on the ballot, which prompted Ottawa County to double its voting stations for what officials expected to take 3-5 additional minutes to complete a ballot.

Equipment and security

Ottawa County in 2017 purchased new voting equipment from Hart Intercivic, which includes numerous safety features. Voting kiosks are not connected to a network, and require multi-factor authentication.

New for Tuesday’s voting in Ottawa County are 4G modems, which replace the 3G service that is being phased out by Verizon Wireless. The hardware sends an encrypted, secure transmission to a static IP address, which is initiated when the machine is not running to prevent tampering. A series of flash drives transmits the data before it is seen by county officials.

“We have to go through a couple of steps to read that,” Roebuck said. “None of this is happening on a network. It’s a little bit more cumbersome but better for security reasons.”

The vote tallies can then be reviewed by county officials before the results go to the county’s website, which keeps an unofficial tally until the Ottawa County Board of Canvassers approves the votes within a few days after the election. Roebuck said the process allows the clerk’s office to detect a data breach before results are posted online.

Roebuck said Ottawa County is part of an election security infrastructure group through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which keeps staff in the loop with monthly conference calls and constant emails to stay current on trends in security.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee last week concluded that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016. The bipartisan report came after former special counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated Russian interference in the last presidential election, warned Congress that the foreign power is continuing those efforts “as we sit here.”

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