MICHIGAN–Michigan’s clerks are facing an election year like no other. It’s been two years since fake electors had a plan to hide overnight in Lansing’s Capitol building and cast their votes for Donald Trump. And concerns over GOP-recruited poll workers, still clinging to the myth that the 2020 election was rigged, surrounded the Aug. 2 primaries. Plus, there was that open letter the state’s clerks wrote in February, pleading with elected officials for more resources.
‘Gander Newsroom spoke with Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, and Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, to find out what they’re expecting for Nov. 8. The good news is that when it comes to people who try to intimidate voters or undermine the election process, Byrum and Swope are not messing around.
“I will not stand for such actions,” Byrum said. “I will hold each and every one of those individuals accountable. And I look forward to having a safe, secure, and uneventful election in November.”
What does a clerk do for elections?
As county clerk, Byrum is the chief election official in Ingham County. This includes the supervision of all national, state and local elections in the county and training election workers for communities with a population under 10,000.
For Swope, who is Lansing’s city clerk, he maintains voter registration records and runs all elections in Lansing.
And if you haven’t thought about your local clerk much since you got married, had a kid, got a passport, or registered a gun, now’s a good time to catch up on the open letter sent by the heads of Michigan’s clerk associations to elected officials, detailing the resources they need to run local elections.
How Did the Primaries Go?
Both Byrum and Swope said that the Aug. 2 primaries went surprisingly smoothly.
“During the election and leading up to the election I saw an increase in emails from conspiracy believers,” Byrum said. Her office even received a public records request regarding the 2020 election.
“So even though I have conducted many elections since November 2020, people still are focused on that election—while I work to canvass and ultimately certify the August 2022 election, and start preparation for the November 2022 election.”
Along with the spread of election conspiracy theories, both Byrum and Swope received notice that the local GOP had plans to plant election workers in local precincts to undermine the election process.
“We did get a list of people that [the Michigan Republican Party] provided us,” Swope said. “I don’t have exact numbers but they provided us about 140 contacts who attended training and most of those were assigned and worked in precincts.”
He didn’t have any issues with these workers, Swope said, although a few of them didn’t understand that an election worker does not act as a challenger.
It’s important to note the difference between an election challenger and a poll watcher.
Election challengers are appointed by a political party or interest group to watch the election process, while someone who isn’t appointed by a party or group is a poll watcher.
Election challengers have more leeway to oversee the process compared to poll watchers, including the ability to challenge things like voter eligibility and absentee ballots.
Prior to the primaries, it was reported that the GOP was encouraging poll watchers to do things like get law enforcement involved in election complaints.
“We certainly welcome poll challengers from both political parties and organizations as long as they are properly credentialed” Byrum said. “But the concern was the GOP was actively encouraging people to serve as poll challengers, not employed by the local clerk and make bad faith challenges to voters or absentee ballots.”
Looking to November
Since this November’s election will include the race for governor, there is a higher expected voter turnout. Clerks across Michigan are asking people to apply to help out.
“We’re always looking for election workers,” Swope said. “People that have great attention to detail, some people with computer skills, who are invested in running a fair and accurate election.”
As someone who oversees all the elections in the county, Byrum said she’s going to empower city and township clerks to train their election workers to know what they can and cannot do, along with how to handle poll challengers.
“So their employees know that they are, in fact, employed by the local clerk, not the county GOP,” she said. “And they may be removed from their duties, even in the middle of an election.”
As for poll challengers:
“We need to train our precinct workers to hold those challengers accountable. If they are making bad faith challenges of voters or absentee ballots, if they are causing a disturbance in the polling location or absentee counting board, they need to be removed. And I stand ready to make sure all of our elections continue to be safe and secure in Ingham County.”
Byrum had a message for voters, too:
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I will stand firm and make sure that our elections are accessible to all voters. So if those voters want to vote in-person, or if they want to vote by absentee ballot, they should exercise their right to vote in the manner that is most comfortable for them.”