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October 16, 2013

Ferndale program recruits election volunteers

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — Ferndale City Manager Cherilynn Brown has helped the city roll out a new election volunteer recruitment initiative, called Champions of Democracy, to make sure the November elections not only run smoothly, but also that there are enough volunteers signed up to take some of the pressure off the rest of the team.

On Election Day, there will be seven precincts at which residents can vote for mayor and City Council seats and on the marijuana decriminalization proposal that was added over the summer. Brown said she would like to have seven volunteers at each precinct but no fewer than five.

The Champions of Democracy program, however, aims to bring in 100 technology savvy workers to help on Nov. 5.

“In 2005, elections in Ferndale were conducted on the old lever machines; precinct inspectors checked a voter’s name against a paper list and directed the voter to a booth,” Brown said. “Today, we have optical-scan vote tabulators, electronic voter-assist terminals and software, and laptops have replaced the paper voter list. The traditionally available pool of election workers often doesn’t possess the skill set now needed.

“There is an urgent need for workers who understand the process, are used to multitasking, are comfortable with technology and have intermediate to advanced computer skills.”

As part of the program, city officials will be reaching out to employers, community groups and educational programs to encourage residents from those groups to help man the precincts.

To qualify to be an election inspector, applicants must be a registered voter in Michigan, declare a political party preference and attend a training session. Volunteers will begin work at 6 a.m. Nov. 5 with the day ending around 10 p.m. Each volunteer will be paid $135.

During Election Day, volunteers will check photo identifications, check registrations and help residents in the voting process, if need be.

“We are borrowing this program from Franklin County in Ohio, which has had quite a bit of success with it and was happy to share it with me,” Brown said. “The main role of the volunteers is to prevent voter fraud. The training will help make sure people are up to speed in any changes the Legislature has made to state law.”

During the presidential election in November 2012, precincts in Ferndale experienced long voter lines, with some voters waiting two hours to vote. While some of the problems stemmed from the number of precincts being cut the year prior, Brown said at the time that the lack of election volunteers held things up.

Mayor Dave Coulter said with a bigger staff this year, he doesn’t expect there to be the long lines like in 2012 and he is appreciative of the community’s help in making sure the election runs smoothly.

“I’m always impressed by the passion and willingness of people in our community to step up and participate in the democratic process,” Coulter said. “Our residents, both individual and corporate, are very community-minded and generous in contributing to the success of Ferndale. We can’t run the city alone and the city is only successful because of the hard work and passion of so many volunteers.”

While the city has a group of volunteers that help out each year, Coulter said as the way voting is done has evolved, some of the older, long-time volunteers are stepping down or struggle to work the technology.

“Our long-time volunteers are getting older, so we need to groom a new generation of people willing to do this,” he said. “We cannot run elections without community members stepping up and assisting us. Technology is increasingly becoming an important part in what we do, and finding new volunteers with technology skills is critical in helping reduce long lines.”

The days may be long for volunteers, but Brown said anyone who steps up is making a difference.

“(Volunteers) are performing an important function to ensure everyone’s right to vote is protected and the city of Ferndale can run a fair and impartial election,” she said. “Their service is invaluable.”

For more information on how to volunteer, visit www.ferndalemi.gov.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.